The Art of Shutting Up
“Be still, and know that I am God” - Psalm 46.10
All too often in our ministry settings, whether we are in youth ministry or not, we find ourselves talking A LOT. It might be a sermon on Sunday morning, leading a small group Bible study, or among our peers on campus. For myself, I have found that I am gaining the theological language needed to articulate my faith in ways that were not possible in the past, and I want to share these new words and thoughts with anyone who will listen (just ask my wife!).
But what if we were silent? What if our first instinct was to be still and listen to the person speaking to us and looking for where God is at work in their life?
During my time at Wesley, the most formative experiences for me have been when I have been able to verbally articulate what I believe and why I believe it. This has occurred when professors have allowed me the opportunity to raise questions and wrestle with my own thoughts out loud during class, and also during conversations with professors and other students in an informal setting. This is exactly what being still and listening when working with young people is all about.
I have found that when I am teaching a confirmation lesson, my students learn more from reading a text and dissecting it for themselves instead of me spoon-feeding answers to them. At first students will sometimes become frustrated or annoyed, but when you encourage and guide them (instead of immediately answering their questions for them) students will begin to take ownership of their own spiritual formation. The key is to provide students with the opportunity to do so.
For those specifically working in youth ministry, listening and being still is a great way to gain insight into the lives of the young people you minister to. As stated in the article, a simple, thoughtful question can help a young person to lower their defenses and begin a dialogue.
A simple act of kindness might be the difference between a young person seeing where God is at work in their life versus thinking they are on their journey alone. As hokey as that might sound, youth ministry is about engaging youth and being apart of God’s redemptive work with them, and none of that is possible if we do not let them get a word in or drown out their stories and experiences with our own words.
For more on shutting up, check out this article by Jonathan McKee on Youth Specialties