Messy Spirituality in Youth Ministry

By Dan Marotta

The term “Youth Ministry” is a bit of a misnomer. Unlike specialized ministries that are focused on the isolated needs of individuals, such as ministries to orphans, widows, or AIDS patients; “Youth” ministries, if they are to be successful, must be focused not only on the particular teenager that happens to walk through the doors of the church, but on the family surrounding that young boy or girl as well. For the most part, teenagers have a mother or a father (hopefully both). They probably have brothers or sisters. No young person (in the U.S.) lives in total isolation. These people, who teenagers share their lives with, have a profound influence on the development of their mind, body, and soul. Therefore, to minister to a teenager must include, to some extent, the ministry to the family of that teen.

This would seem a necessity too obvious to overlook, but how often do youth ministries seem to reflect the opposite? Churches these days seem to have a divide and conquer mentality when it comes to ministering to people of different generations; providing the teenagers with their own worship, teaching, missions, and social events.

Enter the Trinity Fellows. They are young, single, full of energy (at least most of the time), fun, and some of the best of their generation. Would it not make perfect sense to have these thirteen bright young adults spending every last minute of their time mentoring and discipling the teenagers of the church? Not quite. Instead the Trinity Fellows Program assigns these men and women to a much more difficult, but much more beneficial task (both for them and for the church). The fellows are required to not only be involved in the lives of the young people in the church, but also in the lives of their families. They get to know seventeen-year-old David as well as his father, Doug. They spend time with thirteen-year-old Alyse and her Mom, Susie. The fellows get into the lives of the families that make up the congregation and everyone benefits. Moms and Dads watch a 23-year-old fellow encourage their son or daughter to respect his or her parents. Kids look up to the fellow that takes the time to have lunch with them and talk about life as a teenager. The fellows get to see Christian parenting in action and experience the body of Christ raising the next generation of believers.

Is it flawless? Does the system run like a well-oiled machine? Heck no. They are just ordinary people trying to live out the Gospel with an extraordinary God. Thankfully Jesus shows up and carries us. The Fellows, during the few months that they are involved in the youth ministry here at Trinity church, have the unique opportunity to be immersed in the multi-generational life of a congregation. It is an experience that blesses those families they serve and hopefully will benefit the fellows for the rest of their lives as we all strive to advance God’s kingdom together.

Dan Marotta is a graduate of William and Mary and current youth director at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. Dan, in addition to being a challenging and relational person, longs to see students take ownership of their faith and live out of that paradigm.

Another piece of the fellows program, involves members of the Fellows Class serving in some aspect of the youth ministry (children to college students) at Trinity. Fellows learn that ministering out of our true nature involves relying on someone greater than yourself to show up for the building of His Kingdom

Crazy Hope in the Crescent City

by Sarah Stutz

My alarm went off at 5:00 am on January 6, which was only the first thing that was unusual about that day. After weeks of explaining my plans to roommates, family, friends and the clerk at CVS who sold me travel-size shampoo, the day was finally here—and I was nervous. By 5:30 am I was walking out of my door to join a group of Trinity Fellows and a group of RUF students from UVA to spend a week partnering with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New Orleans in their work of loving and serving their city.

Comfortable homes and families, vacation and work time were traded for air mattresses, one shower each for men and women, and hard manual labor that involved occasional meetings with cockroaches and rats. What we set out to do was to participate in the difficult yet beautiful work of the kingdom.

As we walked up to the church on Sunday morning, a jazzy version of “Amazing Grace” floated through the windows out into the street. When Pastor Ray Cannata told us to “stand up and greet your neighbor,” I expected a couple of awkward handshakes. Instead we spent ten minutes being hugged and welcomed like we were at a family reunion. During the sermon, Pastor Ray spoke with love in his voice about the craziness of New Orleans and all the beauty that could be found in the people there, and I wondered at his deep devotion to a place that even the secular media calls “sinful.” I later learned that Pastor Ray and his family had moved to New Orleans after Katrina, excited about the “adventure” of loving a city that was being rebuilt amidst the ruins.

And seeing the destruction throughout the week, there were times I wondered if it made sense to continue. A year and a half after Katrina most of the world has forgotten New Orleans, but we saw entire neighborhoods still abandoned, homes that have still not been cleaned up since the storm hit, people who struggle with vivid memories of dead bodies floating around them. We wondered when and how it would all be rebuilt and whether people would really want to move back. And yet there were numerous signs of God’s work of renewal in the city.

There was Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which clings in strong hope that Jesus is willing to heal their city as they joyfully participate in the rebuilding. There was Mr. Washington, a 73-year-old man who through his tears praised God when he found out that his house was now cleared out and that he could begin to move home. There was Jared, the architect who told us that the church’s work had provided visible reasons to hope, which he was able to share with many others who doubted that restoration was possible.

There was hope—what seemed like absurd hope in a bizarre city. But this hope makes sense, Pastor Ray reminded us, because of Jesus. Abraham pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah on behalf of only ten righteous people; we can plead with even more confidence for New Orleans because of One who was truly righteous. With this great confidence and hope we can pray and labor for the city to be rebuilt and for lives to be restored, and we can joyfully trust that our God is at work—in New Orleans, in Charlottesville, and in all of the places in our lives that are filled with brokenness and beauty and which we long to be redeemed.

As we drove home, some of us listened to a CD made by musicians from Redeemer. In the opening song, a chorus of voices sings, “For the Lord our God, He is strong to save from the arms of death, from the deepest grave, and He gave us life in His perfect will, and by His good grace I will praise Him still.” Together with our brothers and sisters in New Orleans, we will hope and praise Him still.

Sarah Stutz is a current student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and a participant during this recent trip to New Orleans with Reformed University Fellowship and the Trinity Fellows