Summer is about Relationships More Than Programs


By Chris Luper

Whenever I’m around church workers (be it paid staff persons or volunteer staff), there seems to be one reoccurring theme: “Once we get through __________ event, things should slow down for a little bit.” Just like our lives have the propensity to become busier and busier, the programmatic life of the church seems to be no different. In my current ministry setting, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, sometimes to events over a year in the future.

Understanding the lifecycle of youth ministry (six or seven years in most churches) seems to support this sort of panicked approach – “I only have seven years to teach the students I work with a lifetime of Christian faith skills, knowledge, and more.”

For several years now, though, I’ve begun to reflect on whether this is how we should be doing ministry. As I think many of you would agree, we’re living in a post-Christian world, so what are we—the Church—offering to our students that they can’t find anywhere else? The obvious answer is Jesus – any church kid could guess that; but still, what does that look like? How do we share Jesus with students, when they don’t even know they need Jesus?

I think the solution boils down to relational ministry. How can students begin to experience God through the relationships we share with them? We must be willing to model the love of Christ in our lives. This means we have to be willing to meet students where they are. In the politically charged climate we live in, where the word “Christian” often seems to carry a negative connotation, we have to offer unconditional love to our students. This relational style of ministry leads students directly down a path of discipleship.

What better time than the beginning of summer to reevaluate just how relational your ministry can be. Whether you meet consistently all summer or take a break from your regular meeting schedule, make time to pour into your students on a personal level. Sometimes this looks like a cup of coffee, while other times it can be a day of fun – bowling, ultimate Frisbee, and more. The payoff will be immeasurable though, as your students will begin to see you not just as a friend and leader, but rather as a mentor. When the world seems to be closing in around them, students will look to you for guidance built upon the trust of your relationship.

As school winds down in my ministry setting, we have seen the value of these relationships come to fruition. This year in our local high school, three teenagers have committed suicide, none of which attended our student ministry, but some were closely connected to other students in our ministry. Having recently moved to the area, I’m still working to deepen my personal relationships with students, but I have been amazed at how other volunteers have poured into the lives of those affected. It’s the value of relational ministry that has helped our students find a comforting place to mourn and cry, a safe place to share anger and frustration over loss, and a nurturing place to help begin the healing process.

I pray that as you enter into the summer and look for that next big event to come and go so you can find time to slow down, that you first examine the relationships that are forming your ministry. Let the love of Jesus Christ flow out of you, that students might find peace and hope.