The Great Privilege of Gardening With Teenagers

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Matthew 13:31-33

Because these two parables are placed together there are at least three similarities that can be observed:

  1. The kingdom of heaven begins with something seemingly insignificant.
  2. The kingdom of heaven grows out of sight.
  3. The growth of the kingdom of heaven results in something for the community.

One of the great joys of youth ministry is to see the kingdom of heaven take root in a teenager and get to stick around long enough for the plant to mature. I don’t take credit for all that growth (as Paul says, you stick your watering can in when appropriate but it is a group effort under God) but I delight in it nonetheless.

Probably what brings youth ministry to mind when considering these parables is that the growth often occurs out of sight. What you see most youth nights is a smelly, hormonal, immature person just trying to muddle their way through school. Frequently uninterested in faith. Frequently distracted by what is novel and attractive. And yet somewhere under there the yeast is working. The kingdom of God is expanding.

And all of a sudden, you blink and here is a young adult hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Not all the time (the youth pastor, like the farmer earlier in the chapter, usually has the privilege of casting seed regardless of the condition of the soil), but even one or two mature disciples can produce startling results. “…a tree, so that birds can come and perch in its branches.”

So? Don’t give up on people.

And don’t give up on yourself either. Someone removed a splinter from my mind two years ago and it said: “You must completely understand all the mechanics of any spiritual discipline or experience in order for the kingdom of heaven to grow in your life.” I realize now how contradictory that is to what is written here. Sometimes you have to allow the Great Physician to do His work, surgery, and not insist that He position a mirror so that you can observe and sign off on every cut and procedure.

Lord, Thy Kingdom Come.

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