The more you get to know urban youth, the more you can uncover what a great person they are and could be in the future.  Unfortunately, many urban youth have significant relational and spiritual issues in their life that are exposed in the context of deep relationships. 

Many of the un-churched youth we work with in the city are often biblically illiterate.  They will need time investment for significant spiritual training and influence. This can only happen over a number of teaching times per week over a period of years. We often get discouraged when an urban teen doesn’t change their life significantly in just one year of us knowing them.

Consider Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. Jesus invited them to live with him for three years from the beginning of his ministry until his death on the cross and resurrection.  They heard his teachings day-in and day-out, saw Jesus do amazing miracles and even performed miracles themselves.  Then in Mark 14, the disciples demonstrate their true maturity:

  • Judas Betrays Jesus (v20)
  • Disciples fall asleep 2 times during Jesus’ time of greatest need (v. 32-42)
  • Peter cuts off an ear of a soldier (v 47)
  • John runs away for fear of arrest (v 51-52)
  • Peter disowns Jesus three times (v 66-72)
  • The disciples scatter and leave Jesus to face trail alone

Most of our urban youth don’t have the same social or spiritual starting point as the disciples did, nor the same level of investment from us that Jesus poured into the disciples!  Yet because of our expectations, we can quickly become saddened by the choices a young urban believer makes even after 6 months of attending a bible study we are hosting once a week!

We need to keep these types of examples in our mind and hearts as we begin to influence urban youth spiritually.  This doesn’t mean we change scripture to make exceptions for urban youth to be in leadership or excuse their sin.  Instead, we need to have a stronger understanding of the spiritual starting point of our urban youth and how much relational time and effort it might take to develop them into leaders for their community.

Our anecdotal findings suggest that it may take spending 10-12 hours per week for 7-10 years with an urban youth before they might be faithfully living out the characteristics of a relational spiritual leader and Christian servant.
While the task before us might seem daunting, the fruit is so worthwhile!  When you invest this significantly in the lives of urban youth, they become like family to you – much like Paul felt about the Thessalonians. 

1 Thessalonians 2:8
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

What about you?  How have you had to adjust your expectations in order to build long term relationships in urban youth ministry? 

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