Love Your Whole Church


By Alex Ruzanic

I am struck by the simple things in life. The comfort of a good shoe, the heat of a fire, the beauty of a full moon at night. I love keeping things simple and not complicated. One of the things that keeps my ministry simple is caring about the congregation I work with. I am talking about loving ALL the people in my church even though I am called to be the youth pastor. When I was younger I didn’t realize the amazing impact caring about the whole congregation would have on the ministry God had called me to. But in the last decade I have been blown away by the impact that this simple shift has had. So today I am encouraging you to develop a ministry of care and love for everyone in the congregation God has called you to be part of.

In youth ministry it’s very easy to focus solely on the youth we work with. Some of us might even care about the parents, who may be our harshest critics or our biggest fans – either way, loving them is an integral part of youth ministry. Loving students and parents is just the tip of the iceberg, though. What I’m talking about is loving the entirety of the congregation. Developing relationships with folks in your church that have nothing directly to do with youth ministry may seem like something you just don’t have time for. But I’m saying: make the time – it WILL BE worth it.

This might seem odd but I’ve discovered a key principle here: When I love the wider church body I am a more effective youth worker. It may sound simple but loving the overtired parents of a toddler by entertaining their kid during coffee hour, or sitting and talking with an elderly parishioner when they stop by mid-week right in the middle of the time you were planning on scheduling your spring season isn’t always easy. Yes, the task itself may be simple; but sometimes it’s the simple things that trip us up. Loving people like this requires intentionality and, let’s be honest, there are times when we feel tapped out, like there is no more of us to go around. I get that. But let me share how this has worked for me.

You start small – do events with other ministries from time to time and focus on building relationships. In youth ministry we talk about how incarnational and relationship-focused we are…so just transfer that philosophy to everyone in the church. I send our cards (yes, physical cards) to older members, to say I am praying and caring about what is happening in their world. This breaks down walls and allows natural and wonderful relationships to occur.

And guess what else happens? Folks from the congregation start to care about the youth and begin to understand what we are doing, because when we have a relationship with with them we talk about what we love…undoubtedly it is the youth of our church. By spreading our nets a little wider by genuinely caring about them we end up with relationships that are good for us as well.

There are so many folks that ask me about what is happening in youth ministry, or what is happening in my family or in my world. I feel prayed and cared for. The youth of our church also feel cared for in bigger and better ways. They feel connected to our church as a whole because the groundwork has been laid for intergenerational relationships to develop. Students will watch what we do and will often follow our lead. Relationships blossom and good things will happen.

Why do I do this? It is important to connect with your church and not just be on an island as a youth worker. Since I’ve been working on this idea I have seen great things take place. When I am working on outreach I involve the church as a whole and I gain momentum and encouragement. Because of the simple act of caring for people none of this is forced, it’s natural. The whole church has become committed to supporting the youth ministry. When we give love and commitment we get love and commitment – often times it’s really that simple!