The Kids Outside the Gates

Here’s a puzzle to solve. No, it’s not a riddle or a mind bender. It’s a true ministry dilemma sure to spark discussion among people with a passion for ministry  (Which is the exact type of ‘case study’ I liked to always drop in the laps of my leadership team).

When I was in Uganda I visited a youth group made up primarily of international students from a certain private school. The kids were mixed racially and from various countries, but all were from financially stable homes that could afford to send them to this particular institution.

The youth group met at various houses on Friday nights. The week I visited, the gathering was a BarBQ at the youth pastor’s home.

When I arrived, they opened a large gate to let me in, then promptly shut the gate behind me. Most middle class houses in Kampala, Uganda had walls and gates to prevent theft.

As teenagers from the school began arriving, they would knock on the gate, someone would let them in, and then close the gate.

After this happened a few times, I couldn’t help but notice neighborhood kids lurking across the street from the youth pastor’s house. They could smell the BarBQ and were intrigued with the gathering of teenagers at the home. But the gate wasn’t open for these kids.

I asked the youth pastor the obvious question, “Who are those kids across the street?”

“Oh,” he replied. “Those are kids who live in the neighborhood.”

“Should we invite them in?”

The youth pastor was noticeably torn. He thought for a moment and tried to explain. “It’s hard, because those kids are so different than these kids. If I invited them in we wouldn’t be able to have any discussion.”

I paused and thought about his words. Uncomfortable with the silence, he offered further explanation. “Ya see, these kids are pretty intellectual. They’re highly educated and are used to discussing issues at length. If we opened it to the public, conversation would be stifled.”

I pondered the situation. I’d seen the exact scenario countless times in America—diverse kids with divergent interests. I proposed an idea. “What about having deep discussion with your kids on one night, then doing something open to everyone another night? You could even use it as an opportunity to develop the missional perspective of these international students.”

The youth pastor looked at me and answered me candidly. “I just don’t have the time.”

As uncomfortable as it sounded, this guy’s time was already overloaded. He was raising his own support, working two jobs and working overtime trying to reach these international students. The thought of adding ‘another night’ sounded kindhearted and just… but how much is too much?

Another student knocked on the gate. The gate opened and I looked at the kids sitting across the street.

The gate slammed shut.

What is the answer to this quandary?

QUESTIONS TO PONDER:

  • What would happen to ‘Friday nights’ if the gate was open to the public?
  • Should this youth worker add another night? How?
  • How much is too much?

Are there any subtle messages these international students are learning from this situation currently?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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13 Responses to The Kids Outside the Gates

  1. Hal Chaffee says:

    This is the same kind of issue that comes up in state side youth groups where the dilemma is between reaching ‘rough’ kids and discipling ‘church’ kids. I was a part of a youth group that did a lot to reach the rough kids, so much so that the parents of the church kids did not want their kids to attend. I know that sounds bad, but the kids were so rough that the leaders had to have the police bring the drug-sniffing dog! It eventually got out of control and the leadership had to crack down hard on the problems.

    It may be that the solution to the problem that you brought up would be for the youth pastor to lovingly lay down some important ground rules. If there were outside kids who really wanted to be a part of the conversation (or just listen), then they would be welcome, but if they couldn’t, then they would need to stay home.

    It would be great if the youth pastor could do another night for those kids, but if you’re overworked, then you won’t be effective at all. It sounds like the harvest is plentiful, but the labors are few. We need to pray for more laborers in Uganda!

    • You are so right in that this issue is so universal. I had the same problem in campus ministry 20 years ago- I had two groups, the kids that wanted to dialogue about life and the choices they were making… and the kids who were just there to have fun (and often cause trouble). My team had to begin to figure out how to reach both groups. (Perhaps that’s another article).

  2. William Martin says:

    For this particular scenario I would suggest that the youth pastor take this issue to the kids inside the gate and see what solutions they would offer. Sometimes as leaders we think that our students can only learn but I have found there are times when they are able to help solve issues and teach.

    Maybe a viable solution for this group is to begin having one night per month open to the outside kids with programming run by the inside kids with youth pastor supervision, one night per month devoted to training/planning for the open night, and the other two nights per month devoted to growing the inside kids with deeper discussion. This will not add any additional time in the youth pastors schedule and the ultimate goal of this should be to work towards developing a separate night that is completely run by the inside kids and open to the outside kids. Once this is in place then the outside kids should be welcome at all events but informed that the friday nights are for more serious and deeper discussion. So you wind up with every night open to all (provided they adhere to the expectations otherwise can be asked to leave) but you have one night geared primarily toward evangelism and outreach and totally student run (may need some parental volunteers for supervision depending on the age of student leaders but no youth pastor involvement) the other night geared primarily toward discipleship and deeper discussion. You may be surprised at how smart those kids across the street may be given the chance and provided with the expectation to act properly.

    However if you can not do this we have to ask the question would God want us to grow those that are christians at the expense of losing the souls of those that are not? I would have to say that the priority needs to be the salvation of the kids outside the gates over the growing of those inside the gates and the way they are currently going about it you are sending the message to the inside kids that your needs are more important than the salvation of those less fortunate.

    I would say that until all those kids outside the gates have heard the Gospel and had an opportunity to receive Christ you have to leave that gate open. Maybe the gate is always open and for the next six months to a year you concentrate on evangelism and have your goal the salvation of the kids outside and to bring them along in discipleship to grow them to the point where they will desire deeper discussions. What better way to teach discipleship than to have each one of the inside kids disciple one of the outside kids?

    You have to follow God on this one because He knows everyones heart and what they each need but I just can’t imagine God ever saying shut the gate.

    • You had me at “take this issue to the kids inside the gates.” Sometimes the church gets so caught up in growing inwardly, we forget to reach out. This is such a good opportunity for young people to experience reaching out (which… funny… helps them grow inwardly).

  3. Chad says:

    I think the kids outside should be welcomed in with open arms. I’m not sure why we’re trying to separate our students from their mission field. We bring in several van-loads of “rough” students to our normal Wednesday nights. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, there are complaints. But I can’t justify preaching to my “churched” kids about reaching their worlds if we aren’t willing to associate with them at church.

    We still teach the word. I just don’t assume anyone knows the Bible stories already, so I give a basic back-story every time. I also have had to “lay down the law” with some of our rougher kids. However, when it’s been done with the right heart/attitude, the kids always come back (and always bring more friends than our “churched” kids by the way).

    The kids without Christ, need to be around Christians to get a glimpse of what being a Christian is all about. Our long-time Christians need to be around non-Christians to live our their faith and continue to be salt and light (what if they lose their saltiness, Jesus asks).

    I can go relatively deep (I do work with Middle schoolers, though) on a Wednesday night and not lose anyone because the gospel is that powerful. However, for those students that still want more, we try to create an environment where they are hungry for God and His Word outside of Wednesday nights as well.

    This is a rather long comment, and I apologize, but you touched on a nerve of something that we’ve been dealing with for a while now. Thanks for your ministry.

  4. Jim Dunn says:

    Hey jonathan! First of all thanks for being diligent with your blogs. They’re a great resource: )
    On this particular situation, it’s very difficult to make a legit judgement without knowing all the details. My wife and I are currently missionaries in Terra Boa, Brazil and totally understand the whole “behind the gate” thing as we also have to deal with a lot of theft. But, having said that, there was one response that the youth pastor made that stuck out to me. It was “those kids are different and if we invited them in we wouldn’t be able to have any discussion.” To me that’s teaching the kids “on the inside of the gate” that reaching people who are different (socially, intellectually, economically, etc.) isn’t as important and that they don’t belong on “the inside of the gate” with them. And the second thing that stuck out to me was the part of the quote, “then we wouldn’t be able to have any discussion.” Again, to me that’s sending the message to the kids inside the gate that discussion is more important than evangelism or outreach. Especially when all the kids outside are looking at everyone on the inside.
    But I know that we don’t know all the challenges that this particular missionary has. So I’m by no means judging him. Being a missionary in a foreign country is difficult enough as it is without me trying to figure everything out for him when I’m not there. That’s one thing that I’ve noticed being here in Brazil and hosting missions teams. Everyone who visits sees things for a week and they don’t understand the challenges that we have on a daily basis. It’s hard. But even as missionaries we still need to stay focused. We need to keep the main thing the main thing… Going into all the world and making disciples. So even though we may not understand or agree with what he’s doing, he’s already light years ahead of most Christians because he actually done just that- gone somewhere: )
    Blessings!
    Jim

    • Pam says:

      Wow can I relate to this statement: “Everyone who visits sees things for a week and they don’t understand the challenges that we have on a daily basis. It’s hard.” We regularly have camps for teenagers in a mid-town area. We have to limit it based on age. Groups come that get angry with us because we don’t allow 4-10 year olds to come in. But they wouldn’t even consider taking that age to their youth camp stateside. We do have programs for those age children but it’s the attitude of the visitors that is a problem. The person on the ground knows more details culturally and knows their vision for their ministry more than an outsider.

  5. Pam says:

    I can certainly relate with the person involved who said, he just can’t add one more thing on and appreciate the comment that we need to pray for more laborers and not necessarily North American laborers but pray that servant leadership rises up from within their own group. Most likely, every country has the two groups. Perhaps it is the goal of the ones inside the gate to be trained so they can start small groups outside of the gate. It is important to remember that in many countries we are starting with no basic knowledge of what God’s word says – that is certainly true in the country in which we minister. So we are building our own up and as we teach them – we are training them to take what they are learning and lead a group at our next big outreach event, which we generally have once a month. In this way, they have more confidence to lead and we keep the vision going. Our students are also now seeing that it is more than planning a big event, that God alone gives the increase, and that doesn’t always come in proportion to the effort expended! It has been challenging for them, but it’s growing them.

  6. Paul Turner says:

    I agree, give it to the kids inside the gate to figure out. Maybe the kids could meet with the “kids outside the gates” and share what they know. Maybe they only bring in one or two. Maybe they go and serve the kids outside the gate some how, bring them some BBQ. I would suggest parents being involved to take up slack for the youth pastor but I imagine that the parent situation is also universal.

  7. Cissy Boyle says:

    Tensions always exist between competing goods….we have to raise up the next generation with a solid foundation in Christ and we are also called to reach out to those who do not know Christ. What’s the right balance and “how much is too much”?? I would not give it to the kids inside the the gate to figure out….I would teach the kids inside the gates to discuss these issues and then look for where God is working and is inviting them to join Him. Start by acknowledging and discussing the issue, then pray for those outside and seek His Will. God already has a plan, you’re free to join in or make up your own….I’ve tried both ways and I like His better. I think we have a real tendency to think we can figure out this stuff and make it work out….I think it works better when we stop treating God like the big CEO in the sky handing out work assignments and asking for quarterly reports back…..He leads we stay close and work it His way….and there is a subtle message here….who is defining the mission, the folks with education and intellect or God??

  8. Leslie Bogar says:

    Jonathan, thank you for posing the dilemma; to bubble or not to bubble. As the Dean of Students at an up and coming Christian college preparatory high school, I meet with parents on a regular basis and many of them tend to think because we are presenting education with a Christian worldview, our student population is made up of mature, Christ following young men and women. This is not the case. We admit students based on their desire to be open to hearing the Gospel message, taking Bible classes, and having Truth shared through every subject matter. In doing this, we deal with the issues of the culture. We have made a choice to be open to those seeking, or interested in hearing, Truth. We’ve put rules in place for students that choose to attend our school. These rules apply for all students. We partner with parents and bring them into the mix when trouble arises. We teach empathy and expect our student body to reach out to those that struggle with the message.

    Would it be easier to only deal with those that ‘buy in’ to our message? Yes. But, we feel one of the goals of our school is to reach those that don’t have salvation, but are open to hearing the message. When students enter our halls with reservation, yet graduate with conviction and faith in Christ….this says it all. Sacrifice, and trust, are required on our part in order to reach the lost. Many times it is a hard road, but the blessing is seen in lives changed.

    I say, open the gates, have rules, be upfront with what is going on so choices in attendance can be made, and be willing to make decisions on who gets in and who stays out based on prior behavior. Be direct with behavior issues. Get the attendees on board with crowd control and relationship building. And most importantly, expect that it will be messy.

  9. Joan says:

    Perhaps 1x a month the gates can be opened while the other students are there and the focus should not be on discussion, but interaction.

    • Joan says:

      addendum: also, since we can all learn from each other, the intellectual kids may learn something from the kids outside the gate and visa versa. This could be a starting point in an dilemma and as time goes on things can evolve into other ideas: special nights ‘outside’ the gates on a periodic basis. As helpful as routine schedules/programs are, deviating periodically can positively shake things up a bit.