It has crossed my mind more than once lately that I'm not so much nurturing the teens in my group as I am nurturing who they might be at the age of 21 or 25 or 30. Much of what we do in youth ministry bears fruit years later, perhaps in ways we will never know. I remind myself that much of what I'm teaching the youth now may not really click with them until they are older, more experienced, or reach a time in their life when some piece of scripture, some experience in mission, some moment of care offered to them in their teens serves to help them be the person they were created to be. This is also a reminder of the danger of ministry with youth: neither you or they know what sort of influence you are having on them, so be careful what you say and what you do -- you never know when they might actually be listening!
I'm also more keenly aware lately of what little time we have with these young people. A few hours a week over the course of several years, if that. So there is no time waste. I don't have the luxury of running a youth ministry that spends 50% of its time focused on entertaining teens with ski trips and bowling and laser tag, slipping in Bible study or worship when they aren't paying attention. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking the power of fellowship in a youth program. But even fellowship time can be developed to be meaningful, evocative of the Christian faith, and spiritually edifying. For example, rather than sending youth on a Polaroid scavenger hunt to take photos of them all stuffed in a phone both, or cramming donuts in their mouths, they could instead be taking creative and thoughtful images of such things as "peace," "love," "Christ," and "Do unto others." Don't think that would be as much fun? Give it a try. Instead of having a night of Olympics-style competitive challenges, sponsor a "Kingdom Olympics" where the goal is to solve a series of physical or mental challenges together as a group where the key is cooperation, not competition. Make every moment count. Make every moment an opportunity to light "the way of Christ" for them. Make every moment a chance to perhaps get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in their midst.