In urban youth ministry, when we focus our emotional and spiritual energy with students on what they aren’t accomplishing, we create a negative posture of relating with urban youth.  When we focus our emotional and spiritual energy with students on the spiritual steps they are taking (however small they may be) we create a positive posture of relating with urban youth that draws them closer to us as a trusted adult and hopefully closer to the Lord.
When you acknowledge the positive elements of spiritual growth in the life of an urban youth even when they still have significant immaturity (think of Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians despite the issues of immaturity in their church – 1 Corinthians 1:4-9) you can create an environment for spiritual growth in the lives of urban youth. 

A harsh and critical spirit that continually focuses on what is lacking in the spiritual lives of urban youth not only creates a negative relationship position with the youth we are trying to influence, it can also severely effect OUR relationship with God in negative ways.  As we come to Him in prayer for the spiritual growth of the urban youth, yet we only focus on what He “isn’t changing” in their lives, we can become discouraged and disheartened!  We can become unsure about our call to urban ministry, but we can sometimes either 1) become a poor judge of the urban youth’s desire to grow spiritually because we are so focused on the negative or 2) mistrusting the power of his Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those around us because we are so unwilling to see the incremental steps of change.

Often when we have a negative view of our urban youth ministry or the spiritual growth of our students, the problem isn’t with them, it’s with us!  Our negative view of students and perpetuate a negative relationship with them.  When our relationship with the student is a series of lectures and admonitions with very little encouragement mixed in, the youth won’t want to listen to what we have to say. 

This negative relating dynamic is something we have significant control over – and it starts with us getting the reigns on our negative point of view and asking God to change our hearts towards the urban youth.  You might even try praying:

  • Even with all negative relating swirling around this young person – Lord, help me see the positive in them! 
  • Help me see the positive steps of growth this young person is taking! 
  • Help me see the students with your eyes instead of mine.

Taking time to specifically pray for and thank God for the spiritual steps you see in the lives of urban youth will be a key element for longevity in urban youth ministry.  If you aren’t able to wrestle down your own expectations for quick spiritual growth in the lives of urban youth – you will most likely become discouraged and quit.  (or become a negative relator that the teens will tend to avoid).

Spending time with the Lord to pray about specific urban youth and allowing the Lord to speak to you and correct you on your point of view and priorities for a young person is tough.  Like Jacob wrestling with and angel of the Lord, it is hard sometime to yield to God’s direction in our life instead of demanding that the Lord get on board with our discipleship plan for a particular urban youth.

What about you?  Have you expereinced a pattern of negative relating with urban youth only to have your attitude corrected through prayer?  Share your story...

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