Adapted from articles by Neil Atkinson, Dick Langford and various other Young Life veterans
Contact work is the foundational principle behind Young Life’s ability to communicate the Gospel to disinterested teens. It is the platform from which uncommitted adolescents can experience the Gospel. Contact work and Young Life go together like a hand in a glove.
Yet for both experienced and new staff alike, contact work can be a difficult, even frightening experience. It is a term that is used handily, but many are not quite sure what it means, or know conclusively that they are doing an effective job of it.
Contact work builds a bridge of unconditional friendship that often stretches from a concerned adult to an “I couldn’t care‑less” adolescent. It is the movement of an individual into another’s life for the purpose of bringing an awareness of God’s love.
Unfortunately, many avoid doing contact work, saying, “I don’t have the time,” “That’s not my gift,” “I don’t relate as well at the school as I do at club,” “Let’s just concentrate on making club great,” “We’ll have Campaigners do it ‑if each Campaigner would reach just one person.” These excuses ultimately lead in the wrong direction. Club attendance either declines or, worse, becomes a youth group filled with evangelised teens who are looking for something more attractive than their local church.
Contact work is the beautiful gift God gave to Jim Rayburn and passed on to the rest of us who have been called to be a part of Young Life. It is what has made Young Life unique and has served as a model for several other ministries. Developing relationships with adolescents in their world is a key element of Young Life.
What is Contact Ministry?
The name contact work does not seem to be a fitting title for the job we are going to discuss. Actually, it is Christian leadership, and every minute we spend in this work we spend as Christian leaders. Paul set the norm for our contact work in 1 Thessalonians 1:5b‑6 (The Message), “You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master.” We intend to lead young people to the place of following Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
What is the Aim of Contact Ministry?
The ultimate aim is to lead each young person to the Lord Jesus Christ. The intermediate steps in this plan are:
- Winning the right to be heard.
- Building a bridge of friendship and trust.
- Identifying with people where they are.
- Understanding and penetrating a culture. Demonstrating Christ’s love for people.
- Active listening.
- Being the instrument God can use in another life.
Ideally, we go to young people for the same reason that Christ came to humanity: to reveal God to them with no strings attached. To love them in order to get an opportunity to preach to them is a string. We should love them because they need love, because God loves them and wants to love them through us. This concept is one we may have to grow into, but it is included in the idea that with Christ in us the incarnation is still in process in the world‑ today.
Contact work reminds us of our dependence upon Jesus Christ. If it weren’t for Him, we would stay in some comfortable setting with friends our own age. But Christ says go and we go in His strength, with His blessing. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” John 20:21.
“Jesus will not allow true religion to exist in comfortable little circles of its own. The new quality of life is love in action, and that may mean coping at firsthand with the difficult, the messy, and the unpleasant.” JB. Phillips
1. Our walk with the Lord is paramount. A close relationship with Christ and with His people is essential so that when we are with young people our actions, words and attitudes will be His.
2. A growing spiritual understanding of what it means to go to a person who is without, such as Jim Rayburn envisioned, as God taught him:
- Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.
- Have a good rapport.
- Judge not.
- Walk honestly.
- Walk in love.
Acceptance by young people depends primarily upon our love for them and our ability to communicate this love non‑verbally and verbally. But physical appearance and health should be carefully observed. First impressions are often formed by physical appearance. Leaders do not have to conform to teenage styles, but rather should observe the styles of their own age group.
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