Why Your Youth Ministry Should Serve the Poor

Serve Where You Are

In Jeremiah 29, God calls his exiled people to “seek the welfare of the city” where he has placed them (Jer. 29:7). While those words were written to people in a specific situation, the principle remains true and applicable for us today, as we live as “exiles” in this world as followers of Jesus Christ.

What does it look like to live this way? How do you train your high school and junior high students to do this? Why is this important? Doing ongoing mission work well among the poor in your own community is beneficial to the community and can further impact your students and enhance their experiences of short-term mission trips. The keys to serving your local community are long-term focused relationships and partnerships with like-minded groups and individuals.

Long-Term Focused Relationships

You will not change a community with a one-day block party extravaganza. Almost every year a well-meaning suburban church youth group picks a day to come throw a block party to “serve” the low-income neighborhood where I live and work. They show up with inflatables, snow cones, music, gospel tracts, free food and clothes, and tons of volunteers. Neighborhood residents may appreciate the free food or activities for the kids, but at the end of the day when the church packs up and heads home, those living in the community still have real needs that go unmet. I’m not saying that all block parties are bad. In fact, a good block party can be a life-giving force to a community, especially if those in the community are involved in planning and leading it.

Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

Cameron Cole, Jon Nielson

This comprehensive handbook looks at every facet of youth ministry from a gospel-centered perspective, offering practical advice related to everything from planning short-term mission trips to interacting with parents to cultivating healthy relationships.

In doing it that way, you might discover many talents or passions from within the community, like a community member who volunteers to cook barbecue for the event. What a great way to empower someone and impart dignity . . . and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t choose homemade barbecue over mass-grilled hot dogs? These kinds of discoveries only flow out of long-term relationships in a focused area. And these kinds of relationships only happen when people—from a church or a youth group—decide to get involved for the long haul. This could take a variety of different forms. One idea could be adopting a local school by empowering your youth group to help tutor, throw parties for teachers, or raise funds to buy school supplies.


Lastly, as with short-term trips, partnerships are key when doing local mission work among the poor. Most likely, there are already organizations doing great work among the poor in your city. Instead of starting your own program, consider partnering with one of these existing organizations. If there are no organizations doing work in the community your youth group feels called to serve, then perhaps your church could consider starting a ministry program, with the input of the community!

Imagine a generation of Christians learning beneficial ways to do ministry with the poor as a response to the gospel—all to the glory of God.

A Gospel Framework for Service

Picture students who began serving the poor when they entered your youth group in the seventh grade. What if you took them on short-term mission trips and local service projects while consistently reminding them of the dignity of the poor? What if they were challenged to learn from the poor and to work with them instead of for them? What if they were trained to empower rather than entitle? And what if you taught them a gospel-centered framework for serving the poor, reminding them that they too were impoverished apart from Jesus, who made sinners rich through his sacrificial death in their place?

Imagine what would happen if youth leaders across the country trained students to live this way. Imagine a generation of Christians learning beneficial ways to do ministry with the poor as a response to the gospel—all to the glory of God. Will you commit to equipping students to obey God’s mandate to serve the poor as a response to and demonstration of the gospel?

This article is adapted from Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson.

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