One of the most useful ministry values I’ve learned over my years of serving as a part of our camps is the importance of never wasting an opportunity for intentionally programming what looks like wasted time.
Youth and Children’s Ministry is so critically relational. As we work with sharing Christ to a child who hasn’t yet come to God or traveling along the path of discipleship while instilling the values of leading a missional life, we need more than just classroom settings and speaking from the stage moments. Those are critical clarifying moments in their spiritual journey, but it comes down to the simple millennium old fact of life that kids do what we do and not what we say.
Here’s some places you will find moments to take advantage of what often looks like just community time that you might be able to turn into program time.
Make the Most of a Meal - As you gather with kids around a plate of food (whether it’s youth group, taco bell, or a family’s house), what key values do you model? Waiting until everyone has been served to eat. Passing food from one to the next instead of tossing it down the length of an 8’ table. Encourage gratitude to the cooks. Lead appropriate dinner conversations.
Game Time - Kids love youth group games. You’ve no doubt got a score of games that create great interaction, encourage community, and have dynamic teaching parallels. The discussion time is key but so are opportunities like this. At a sporting event with your youth, don’t engage in the negative cheering/chatter against the opposing team. While you are playing and officiating, give up on competitiveness and instead overcompensate on debatable calls. Modify rules to equalize all players or elevate kids who need the encouragement.
Conservation, Beautification, & Stewardship - You can talk ’till you’re blue in the face about these things and none of it will have near the impact of you being intentional about modeling it. Make choices that display a care for God’s creation. When you walk by a piece of trash (on the street, in the yard, in the office), pick it up. When everyone leaves the room and the lights are still on, remind them of the ministry dollars that can be better used than being spent on wasted electricity. If they see you do it and you don’t mention it, they see it…they really see it.
Casual Conversations - A youth leader once told me about students in his youth group being overly intimate; he wasn’t addressing it for fear they would leave. Casual conversation times are never just that. Make them meaningful. Working with kids/youth, we deal with hard conversations daily that feature inappropriate jokes, content that is bad for their minds and development (video games, TV, etc.), and in attitudes towards people. Call it what it is when it’s daylighted. (Don’t read this as an invitation to nitpick and be legalistic) They might be upset with you, but they will respect you for speaking truth in to their lives. Changing behaviors starts when you can first recognize that one needs changed.
Break the Class System - It’s inevitable that we connect better with some kids than others. Don’t let that gravity become a hindrance to ministry. When the kids are in groups and you’re invited to join but you notice that one student off on their own…don’t invite him to join this group, leave that group to join him. Meeting a person where they are to invest in and listen to them shows more value towards them than simple inclusion.
These are just a few places to start. It's simply about your team being intentional with the precious moments you get with your students. If you want to learn more about this, I encourage you to consider joining one of our counseling teams at summer camp. Our training efforts help counselors to identify peripheral moments that transform as well as taking everyday things and turning them into teachable moments.