Alan and Julia,and quite a few other Jewish high school students from our Volvo-lined suburb, attended confirmation class at a Conservative synagogue, and hung out regularly with the Christian youth minister. How was that possible?
The rabbi, the educational director (that was me), and a representative from the Jewish community relations council met over many months with the leadership of the Youth Ministry.
Why are you going after Jewish kids?
They told emotional stories about being driven by a deep calling to save people's souls. They were surprised to learn about our Jewish relationships with God. Through the story telling and sharing we saw each other more clearly.
Also crystal clear: Nothing we said would deter them from deliberately recruiting Jewish teens to come to Jesus. Eventually we found one small opening: our shared text about honoring your father and mother.
The leadership of the youth ministry was willing to say that reaching out to Jewish children without parental knowledge was an infringement on Biblical law. So they agreed, and we understood the national office agreed, that they would not actively seek Jewish teens. When they did connect, they would inform the parents of the Jewish teens. Who knows what became of that. They still have three offices in the community.
Here is the youth ministry's web posting:
See what I learned.
"(The youth ministry) doesn't start with a program. It starts with adults who are concerned enough about kids to go to them, on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. These relationships don't happen overnight — they take time, patience, trust and consistency.
So (the youth ministry)leaders log many hours with kids — where they are, as they are. We listen to their stories and learn what's important to them because we genuinely care about their joys, triumphs, heartaches and setbacks."
Yep, relationships first. And how do they do it? How did they get Alan and Julia and other Jewish kids to want to go to a weekend retreat and be loved by Jesus?
They told us their strategy:
The youth ministry stationed two charismatic youth ministers in the neighborhood. They had a cool apartment close to the high school with a pool table. The youth ministers hung out at school, at the football games and wherever the kids stood, sat, or sipped.
Strategy: Just start talking.
Just be there.."really you need some help with your math..let me see if I can help?"
"Hey come by during the week, a bunch of us hang out and play pool. How is it going with your application, you want some help?"
"You see the kids with some special needs, why don't you sit with him and help him out too.?"
"Do you need a ride? Hey we've been hanging out, wanna come away for a weekend?"
For those who are worried about letting go of programs, program does come eventually. Someone had to plan the weekend retreats where teens learned the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the lesson from Jesus' emissary on the 40 yard line...relationships first.
At our Summer Institute, Ron Wolfson, will be sharing what he has learned from the mega churches and from Chabad. Who is wise, the one who learns from every person...