Providing Sabbath for Busy Youth

Dec 8, 2021 9:03:17 AM / by Per Nestingen

This article is in conversation with "Making Time for Church," posted on the Sparkhouse blog on December 7.

Where has CHURCH NIGHT gone?

In a transactional, labor-intensive society, we embody Jesus by providing relief, sabbath, and total understanding.

When I make prayer stations for youth, WORTHINESS is the most popular.

My favorite thing about Jesus is whenever he was teaching or preaching, he was flipping our expectations and societal norms on their heads. Throughout the Gospel, we discover that Jesus is concerned more with freedom and acceptance than any sort of productivity. How does our culture handle that today? How do we do with valuing human beings for only their existence and not their production? What message are we sending to our youth in terms of their value? As church leaders, do we ever cast shame or guilt on our families as if they owe us something?


The most common interaction I have with parents begins with them apologizing to me about what they haven’t done, what they don’t know, or pre-emptively bracing me for some favor they are about to ask. Wow! I wish they didn’t ever feel like they owed me or the church ANYTHING! Our theology backs up the idea that we don’t have a transactional relationship with God, and we need to model that in what our expectations are and how we interact with our families. You are ALREADY claimed, loved, and forgiven by God. Your salvation doesn’t hinge on your weekly attendance or how pious you are or if you cannot come to the retreat. Our families constantly need that reminder. I would go as far to say that if we only embody the grace and flexibility that the fast-paced law-based world doesn’t provide, that may be all the ministry they need from us.


Email from parent: “Dear Per, my daughter cannot make it to the retreat this weekend. We had something unexpected come up. Thank you! Let me know if there is some way to make it up.”

What I’m thinking: “Hmm . . . they’re being very vague. This is a bummer. I wonder how valid this excuse is? Second thought: I hope everything is alright! Third thought: OH! I bet they are so bummed that they can’t come. They would’ve had so much fun! I wonder whose decision this is . . . does the youth want to come? Do they need a comforting conversation? Are they feeling anxiety?

Response: “Dear family, we are going to miss them so much this weekend! We hope they are enjoying life and having a great experience on their own! Is there anything we can pray for as they are away this weekend? In terms of making it up, there really is no substitute for the experience of being present at the retreat, but if your youth would like to hear all about it and catch up on what we talked about and did together, is there a time next week I can take them out for coffee? I would love to give them a recap and hear how they’re doing!


I was a college athlete on scholarship without ever feeling an imbalance in my high school life. We went to church weekly, and my parents never forced me into traveling teams, extra clinics, or specialty coaches. When I see families struggling with the stresses of all-encompassing sports activity, I do try to help them re-evaluate what their priorities are. I do try to give them permission to skip practice whenever they want to or take a break when they need a sabbath. I don’t do this in hopes that they come to church; I do this in hopes that they take care of themselves. Most won’t play for their high school team, only a select few will play in college, and the dream many are chasing about making a career out of sports is nearly impossible.

So, how do we accompany them on that journey? We congratulate them on Christ-like attributes in the way they play, practice, or interact with teammates. Do we care if they scored or won? No, we care about them using their spiritual gifts! How freeing that would be to tell them how great they are doing on things that have no influence on the outcome of the game!

If you’re upset with youth missing your event or ministry night, is it A) because you miss and AGAPE love them? Or B) because you’re jealous of them not making church a priority?

Our goal in our youth ministry program is to equip our teens to be sent out into the world to proclaim the good news to their teams, to their classmates and to the stranger they will meet tomorrow, not to be confined in the walls of our building like an echo chamber.

What is that good news? You are enough. Open your eyes to the ministry needs around you every day. When a student-athlete misses practice, I hear sometimes they aren’t allowed to play in the game. You know what freedom we have in the church? There is no game. It’s all practice. It’s all discipleship. And that is not a bad thing!

Try these words on for size next time you see youth: “WE ARE SO GRATEFUL YOU ARE HERE TODAY, young person. Thank you for being with us. Welcome home!”

Topics: Youth Ministry, Sabbath

Per Nestingen

Written by Per Nestingen

After graduating from Augustana University, Per Nestingen worked for two summers at Sugar Creek Bible Camp. Ever since, he has worked in ELCA congregations around Minneapolis serving middle and high school youth. He enjoys live music, being physically active, and writing sentences about himself in the third person.


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