I spent the first three years of being a bonafide paid youth minister working in a church that was nestled in one of the worst communities in our city. At its height, the community was a middle class , blue collar, family oriented community. Through the years it became a rental community full of transients and criminals. The church suffered and when I was hired it had gone from a thriving church with hundreds in attendance in the late 80’s to a paltry group of 20-30 people. They had a new pastor with outrageous and courageous ideas and a heart for the community and he had started a community outreach on Wednesday nights feeding the children and youth in exchange for their time in a short Bible study. When I started the Bible study was my responsibility.
Now understand something about Jason Roth. I ain’t nothin’ but a white boy from the country straight out the trailer. Excuse my English but it is the truth. Other than having very little growing up I had NOTHING in common with these kids. I did however have the insight of having worked in the neighborhood reading light and water meters. I had visited most of their homes to get readings and I had seen their living conditions.
Quite soon after I got there I realized that I was going to need to do something different. My teaching style wasn’t working, we had too many behavioral problems, the girls quit coming and things were just a mess. So I had to sit back and ask God what I needed to do. As i walked my route each day reading meters I fervently prayed asking God what it was that He would have me do. Through those prayers God birthed a vision in me that, when implemented, saw great success for the kingdom. It was not without hard work though we had to make some drastic changes.
If you are ministering to troubled inner city teens here is my advice
1. Smaller groups- The larger the group the harder it will be. Recruit teachers and rotate with them so that you can have maximum exposure with them
2. Age appropriate groups- The younger ones feed off the older ones keep them separated
3. Gender specific groups- The guys show out in front of the girls and the girls do not like the guys. Believe it or not even though they present themselves as buying into the trashy image they are really little girls who feel offended by the ways the guys treat them. Our female attendance went from 3 to 23 in 6 weeks.
4. Don’t get worked up- These kids don’t get attention at home so if you get all bent out of shape they get what they want. If one acts out tell them to leave and see you afterwards.
5. Move to a topical approach- Expositional teaching is a little more than they can handle. Focus it in on how Scripture applies to their life. When they realize that God speaks to them and not just the suburban middle class white kids they begin to open up
6. Actively pursue understanding of their situation- I don’t know what race and cultural barriers you face but likely there may be one if not several. You have to learn everything about their culture that you can so that you understand just how rough they have it. Take a walk through the neighborhood. Go hang at the Ball courts. Just look and listen. Take some people with you if you don’t want to go alone. Interview some of the grandmothers in the area. There are always grandmothers that would love to have someone pray for their grandkids with them. Ask them tough questions be real and honest. It will open your eyes wide.
7. Develop trust- Don’t be a narc! Let the kids know you are not there to learn their secrets and then turn them in. Say it early and often.
8. Make a plan- Write down the course of action. Put in the steps and show your people that it is going to take time but you are working on things progressively. If you have it down on paper it will show you are thinking critically and are organized enough to do this job. People will get behind that.
9. Encourage- These kids get told everyday how worthless they are through verbal, emotional and physical cues. Tell them they can be more, that they can do better. That simple phrase will mean more than you will ever know.
Most of all follow God’s direction every church is different and He has a special plan for you if He has put you there. Feel humble and honored that He would charge you with so great a task.