Last night I had the opportunity to visit the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) here in Medina, OH to share God’s Word with the teens. I hesitate to say “teens” because a few of the kids were not even in their teen years yet. My heart broke as I sat in front of twenty or so kids who ranged from the ages of eleven to seventeen. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I decided to talk about Jonah and the negative effect disobedience has on our life. It wasn’t long until I realized my little Bible lesson wasn’t cutting it and these kids had some real tough questions that I was not ready to answer. For thirty minutes they asked question after question about God, salvation, how did Jesus walk on water, how can we prove God is real, and so on and so on. I tried my best to answer each question and point them to Jesus. It was a hard night in the sense of I was faced with kids who wanted real answers to real life issues, but I learned that as youth workers we are missing a huge opportunity for the cause of Christ by not getting connected with the JDC’s in our communities. Here are a few reasons why I think youth workers, especially youth pastors, should consider getting connected with the local JDC.
It will make you rethink how you share God’s Word and the Gospel. When sharing God’s Word in the JDC you are talking to kids who, for the most part, have never stepped foot inside a church who ever opened up the Bible. You cannot expect them to know the Bible stories most of us have known since children’s church. You have to start with the basics and even start with how the Bible is truth because most of them will not listen to what you have to say until they know God and the Bible are trustworthy. Also, you cannot share the Gospel the way we normally do. Christian lingo like “born again” or “believe in Jesus” do not work. I had a kid ask me “how do you believe in Jesus, what does that look like?” You have to use language and terms they understand to describe truth from God’s Word.
Build relationships with kids who would never step foot inside a church. As youth workers we tend to forget their our students who will not come to our youth group and church unless we go to them. We cannot expect every kid to come to church, we must go to them! By getting connected with the JDC in your community you will get to build relationships with kids who need you just as much as the students in your youth group needs you. As youth pastors, we are called to minister to students, inside and outside of our youth group.
Connect kids with the local church. The good thing about JDC’s is that most of the kids are there short-term so if you build a relationship with them while they are there, in a few weeks you can get them involved in your youth group and local church. I believe our youth groups need these kind of students in them. Parents might complain because their rough or “dangerous,” but Jesus loves them and we need them to be part of our local church. I have seen too many youth groups that are most white, “good” kids and when anyone comes that is outside that type they don’t fit in. How cool would it be if our youth groups where a mix of colors and cultural backgrounds! These kids need a local church when they get out of JDC and as a youth pastor you have a chance to connect them with yours!
I want to encourage youth workers, especially youth pastors, to connect with your local JDC. There are many different ways you can do this, but I would recommend you find out when they do church or a Bible study and start by speaking at those. Once you have done that you can build relationships with the kids and hopefully continue that when they get out.