Dear Young Life Leader,

It has been three weeks since the normalities of our ministry started changing. If you’re feeling confused or defeated right now, I don’t think you’re alone.

Every Young Life leader on every Young Life team is trying to figure out how to lead from an isolated place. It feels unnatural because it is unnatural. You’ve always known ministry to mean meetings with students face-to-face and now you’re not able to meet with students at all. If you’re questioning whether or not you’re doing it right, know that everyone else is, too.

We didn’t sign up to lead virtual ministries, but how can we hold onto hope when a virtual ministry is all we have?

We’re in this together and have every reason to keep going. Here’s why:

We Haven’t Lost the Gospel.

The pandemic has created a season of pause. Club and campaigners have been cancelled, camp trips are up in the air, and Stay at Home mandates across the country have made hanging out with students at Starbucks impossible.

Really, the only thing that hasn’t changed about our ministries is the only thing that can’t change. It’s the most important part of what we do and the reason why it all exists: the gospel.

We’re used to hosting outreach events that feel super fun and inviting for even the ‘furthest out’ kids (I think Young Life does an amazing job of this). But if the only thing we’ve built our reputation on is invitation and excitement, we’ll quickly learn that we’ve grown good-looking fig trees that don’t actually grow fruit. But if our ministry is rooted in the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, we’ll have a tree planted firmly in the ground during the changing seasons. Even when it looks bare, it’s still alive and well, and it’s only a matter of time before fruit grows from the branches again.

Use the time in quarantine to focus on the gospel and the kids who are ready to hear it. I believe that God can do miraculous things in times like this, but are we letting Him? Maybe the miracle is in the junior boy who has showed up to campaigners for two years, and the fruit of the spirit is suddenly starting to show up in him.

I promise that we can run on mission without Pizza Olympics and paint wars. But without the gospel, we’re just running in circles. We might have taken a slower pace temporarily, but we haven’t lost a reason to run.

PRACTICALLY: Come up with a short list (one to three names) of kids that you know really well and who already have a relationship with Jesus. Make an effort to text these kids every day with a gospel encouragement.

I like using the Marco Polo app because I can see my friends’ faces without needing to set aside a specific time for all of us to meet.

Relationships > Marketing.

It’s easy to get reactionary with our strategy because ministry as we’ve known it has suddenly stopped. A reactionary strategy looks like an overload of posts on Instagram that subliminally scream “don’t forget about us!” You know who else is overloading Instagram feeds? Every other brand and business in America. Is it adding value?

Are we reacting in fear that students will forget about Young Life, or are we reacting in faith that God hasn’t forgotten about the students we love? Young Life is a ministry built on a relational foundation. If we put energy into our Instagram clubs, but not into reaching out to kids, we’re missing the point.

If you’re worried that kids will forget about your Young Life ministry when this is over, I’m here to tell you that I don’t think they will. But if all you’ve done is post on Instagram, I think the students in your high school will feel forgotten by you.

Scroll through your ministry’s Instagram feed. Are your posts adding value? Are you still lifting up students and the heart of the gospel, or have you shifted to a profile of programming and promotion? Make sure you’re putting more effort into individual relationships with students than you’re putting into your ministry’s social media page.

PRACTICALLY: With your team, make a list of all of the students you know by name at the high school where you lead. Split up the list and commit to praying for the students by name for the next month. Then, get creative! Brainstorm ways you can continue to connect with these students in ways that feel authentic and real.

We Are Still Disciples.

There is a lot of uncertainty and I hope you’ll lean into it. I hope you’ll use this season to shift your focus from making disciples to becoming one. I hope you’ll spend time with Jesus and the time will uproot any false sense of worth and importance and replant your identity in the God of grace. I hope that when this season is over you’ll have a deeper belief that you don’t need to do important things to be awesome, but you have an awesome God who gives you importance.

You’re allowed to rest. You have been given a gift of time, and I hope you’ll spend it getting to know Jesus. You’ll be a better Young Life leader because of it. I promise.

PRACTICALLY: Open your bible. Use your extra time to listen to commentary or try new bible studies that help engage your relationship with Jesus.

Our team has a separate group chat that we use only to write out the scripture we’ve read each day. It’s not intended to feel competitive, but rather to keep each other accountable. We also pray together over FaceTime once a week during the time we’d normally be at club.

We are Called to Obedience.

I took a chance and started a group chat of senior girls that I know from the peripheral of my Young Life ministry. I invited them to join me on Zoom every weekday afternoon to read a couple Psalms together. Since the majority of them have only been to Young Life events a couple times, I wasn’t sure they’d even join and I didn’t expect it to turn into an amazing story that I’d be excited to share. But, I felt like God gave me the idea and was asking me to be obedient, so I went for it.

Every afternoon when I log on to Zoom at 3 PM, I am willingly setting myself up for rejection (laugh with me here). A couple minutes pass and I question ending the call as the participant count (1) seems to mock me. But I stay on. I stay on because Jesus feels really near in those moments. Maybe God gave me the idea and asked for my obedience so that he could strip away any sense of entitlement and self glory that I have. I doubt he was trying to set me up for a cool story to tell about the time I started a virtual small group. I bet he was trying to set me up to believe more deeply that his reputation deserves the glory.

If you try something new and it doesn’t turn out how you hoped, look for Jesus in the midst of rejection and keep choosing obedience. Our obedience always leads to a deeper trust in God… and maybe that becomes the amazing story we’re excited to share.

PRACTICALLY:  What is God asking you to do right now? Do it.

I have three close friends through Young Life who are sophomores in college and we still talk almost every day. When they graduated high school and moved away to three different states, I had to shift the way I connected with them as a group. It used to be easy to meet for coffee or walk around the lake because we lived in the same neighborhood, but when they moved to college those rhythms became impossible. Just like we have to change the way we care for high school seniors who move away for college, we have to change the way we care for students right now. It will absolutely look different, but that doesn’t mean it’s less valuable.

Running the race with perseverance means pushing through uncharted territories instead of giving up. If everything in your ministry is stripped away except for Jesus, is it still worth it to you to run on mission? I hope so. 

We’re in this together and we have every reason to keep going,