Experiences that Teach
by Joel Williamson
Why does the lesson time in youth ministry feel like the most important?
When in our history did that become the pinnacle of our youth gatherings?
Last weekend, I took 7 teenagers with me to give out food to the homeless. We partnered with a local organization who has done this outreach for 18 years. On Friday night, we made food bags from supplies donated by our church and heard stories from the ministry about some of our neighbors in need.
They told our teens that it wasn’t about giving out a sandwich, it was about creating a conversation. Their purpose was to build relationships with the homeless and, over time, share Jesus with them. As kids filled the bags, they asked them to pray for people they might meet.
They told us about safety and how to behave and what we might expect.
The kids were terrified.
I was a bit anxious myself. A former homeless man, now working for the ministry, seemed to enjoy telling us the “scary stories” to make us squirm. It worked!
We spent the day Saturday doing some work projects for the ministry. That night, we went out to the streets.
It was fantastic.
I was amazed at watching the regular volunteers of the ministry who knew the names of almost every homeless person we met. I loved watching my teenagers try to step up and have conversations, extremely far out of their comfort zone. I joined my teens in heartbreak for some of our struggling neighbors.
Sunday morning, we had our teens get up and share with the church what they learned at the event. Here are a few quick quotes:
- “It was crazy how these people had nothing, but they were cheerful. They didn’t complain about it at all.”
- “What struck me the hardest was that there was this lady living in a tent, struggling to survive herself, and what she asked for was something for a friend. She wanted to care for someone else.”
- “I saw Jesus in the homeless people. One family lived in a tent; one guy literally slept in trash. Yet they weren’t hostile or mean, they were really polite.” (The teen then shook his head back and forth like he couldn’t believe it.)
I love teaching youth. I work hard to craft careful messages that speak truth in a memorable, engaging way. Lessons and sermons and stories from the Bible – these are invaluable.
Yet, let’s be honest – a year from now, will they remember that time I spoke eloquently about David and Goliath – or will they remember the lady in the tent, asking for help for a friend?
We have to help our students get the experience of being the hands and feet of Jesus. What kinds of things are you doing in your group to facilitate more experiences? Please share with us in the comments!
Joel Williamson has been working with young people for two decades leading a non-profit reaching at-risk youth. He loves youth workers and is passionate about equipping them for effective, transformational ministry. Joel currently works as the Chief Strategist and CFO for Youth Core Ministries, serves on his church's youth team, and lives with his wife and daughter in Noblesville, IN.