Earlier this week I listened to a podcast called The Transformationist with Tash McGill. On this particular episode, Tash interviewed my friend and youth ministry coach Mark Oestreicher, better known as MarkO. The description of the podcast states, “This podcast is dedicated to real stories and conversations of transformation. These are the strategies, stories and experiences that can help you shape transformation in your own life – whether in business, relationships or for personal growth.” In the podcast, MarkO talks about his own transformational experience and how he has changed both personally and professionally. But the part that really stuck out for me was when he stated that the main purpose of youth ministry is to be a transformation host. I have heard him say that in the past, but hearing it again got me thinking about how much I believe that is true.
The definition of transformation is a thorough or dramatic change. In the Christian world, transformation is a significant change to more closely living the way God would want us to live; to live a more Christ-like life. Now this doesn’t mean the person wasn’t a Christian before. It simply means there has been a big change to the way one lives. Sometimes this can be a single event like MarkO had of losing a job he loved. But many times it’s a process that happens over time.
The idea that youth ministry and youth ministers, like myself, are transformation hosts is a great description of what we do. Often times, youth ministry is thought of as behavior modification. Under that thought process, the goal would be to get the youth to stop doing certain things and start doing other things. But transformation is different than that, and I believe much more important. Sure, behaviors change in transformation, but it is so much deeper than just that. It is a spiritual change that changes who we are as a person. Youth ministry and ministers don’t cause the transformation; only God, through the Holy Spirit, can do that, and we can’t force it to happen. For transformation to happen, the person has to be open and willing. But there are some things we as the host can do to help encourage it. I have learned over the last 20 years of doing youth ministry that there are certain experiences that help transformation happen. Mission trips are a great example of this. Being willing to move outside of one’s comfort zone, and often interacting with a culture different from your own, causes one to think and see the world differently. Another experience that encourages transformation is retreats. Joining other youth in times of worship, small groups, and just having fun can be a transformational experience.
But the thing we spend the most amount of our time on is being in community with each other. The youth learn from each other and from us as leaders. Having times of intergenerational interaction are important to the process. The best example we have of this is our Thursday night Bible studies. Youth gather in homes and share a meal together and study scripture. The learning about the faith and how to read and interpret the Bible are important. But I believe the most important thing that is happening during those times is the youth are learning how to be in community with one another. In community we love and care for one another. We get to know to each other better. We celebrate the joys that are happening in each others lives and we pray for and support each other during the struggles. We as adults get to share our own joys and struggles and show how we are handling those situations. We share the times we have failed to live the way God would want us to and the times we followed Jesus’ example. We also have the opportunity to share our own transformation stories.
One goal we seek to instill in students is to love God and love our neighbor. In learning how to do that in their lives, I believe we are hosting the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to bring about transformation in these young people’s lives. If the youth are open and willing, and if they fully participate, change can happen. I also know that these experiences with students also continually transform my life!