It can be difficult at times to strike a good balance of play, fun, and high energy as well as deep conversation, theology, and spiritual growth in youth ministry. I wouldn’t even say that these are mutually exclusive things. But there’s definitely an ebb and flow – or a bipolar character – to youth ministry – especially middle school ministry. One moment you witness them engage in deep reflection, prayer, or conversation and 15 minutes later they’re discussing the whether Jesus would have farted or not (OK, this is mostly coming from my 8th grade boys).
Part of my job – as I see it – as a youth pastor is to test the waters of what our youth are capable of when it comes to discipleship, theology, and spiritual growth. One tool I’ve found to be a great way to engage the capability for our youth to think theologically and grow spiritually is a prayer labyrinth, and I’m convinced that every youth ministry should provide their youth with a labyrinth experience. Here’s why:
1. Engaging: I’ve used a prayer labyrinth for our Confirmation retreat for the last two years. The first year we had a group that was extremely quiet and didn’t quite know each other very well outside of class. The second year (this year) we have a class that will not stop talking because they know each other so well. Both groups have done the labyrinth and found it to be a refreshing experience of prayer. Whether you have extroverts or introverts, a labyrinth provides a great prayer experience of youth of all personalities.
2. Silence, Stillness, and Identity: With the schedules of youth getting busier and busier, I’ve found the labyrinth to provide a space for youth to step away momentarily from the busy, non-stop, high stress pace of their everyday lives. One very outspoken 8th grade guy in our group even said, “It was really nice to just be quiet and not feel like I had to say something.” The prayer labyrinth reminds youth – especially from the mainline – that their identity is not wrapped up in their social status, success at school, place on the sports team, etc., but in the strongest love that God has for them.
3. Self-Guided: Though I really enjoy teaching on Sunday mornings and at Youth Group, it’s nice (and beneficial for our youth) for me to not be up front talking to them. The labyrinth is self-guided by the youth. We simply let them in, staggered one at a time, and they follow the path to each prayer station. Even our adult leaders and myself go through the labyrinth after we’ve let all the youth in. It’s a great reminder to adults that discipleship is life-long, on-going process and that both adults and youth alike are in this together.
For the past two years I’ve been borrowing a labyrinth from a friend of mine, but after this year, I’m definitely investing in our very own for our church’s youth ministry.