Being an urban youth worker can make you feel a lot like Kermit the frog—alone on your own pad with just a song to get you by. Remember in The Muppet Movie, Kermit the Frog sat with his banjo, dreaming about rainbows and bemoaning the difficulty inherent in a lime pigment? For the youth minister, it’s not easy being urban because there’s a need for green, along with a need for resources, attention, training, and empowerment.

The lack of resources in the urban youth ministry setting compared to my counterparts in the suburbs can make me feel like a Samaritan in a Jewish world—an outcast in youth ministry. It’s easy to feel that my ministry to youth isn’t as pure as those who have a significant budget, support staff, and a youth room that isn’t shared by other ministries. From an urban viewpoint, it seems that success in youth ministry is based on a suburban, white, large-church model. And this suburban superiority view seems to be supported by the models of T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar who both pastor churches that maintain urban outreach ministries but have set up camp in the suburbs.

Volunteer-Run

I grew up in a black church in inner-city Minneapolis called Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. My mother took me to the church every Sunday while my dad usually stayed home to watch football or basketball (which is really what I wanted to do). By the time I was in middle school, I began to like this church for a couple of reasons. Every third Friday night they hosted a party for youth called “Youth Friday.” We paid three dollars to get in, and there was a deejay playing music, older women in the church selling chicken dinners with Kool-Aid, and deacons in the church serving as security.

I realize now that the cover made the event possible because there was no youth budget. There wasn’t even a youth pastor on staff—all the ministries for youth were run by volunteers from youth choir, the youth usher board, and the youth deacons’ board. The ministries to youth were just junior versions of the adult activities. When we visited other black churches in the city they seemed to have pretty much the same setup—a church of 300 people or less with families of middle-and lower-class incomes, only one paid staff member (the Senior Pastor, who in many cases was bi-vocational), and youth ministry run by volunteers.

By my freshman year in high school, an associate minister named Reverend McAfee came to the church and became our de factoyouth minister only because there wasn’t much else for an unpaid associate pastor with minimal resources to do in a church like Tabernacle. I believe it was that same year that Tabernacle was dissolved for financial reasons and a new church called Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church was formed. Today that church still resembles the old Tabernacle, with only a senior pastor on staff and a youth ministry run by volunteers.

"A Special Blessing"

By the time I was a sophomore in high school I met Joey Huber who went to Park Avenue United Methodist Church about a mile away from Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church. He invited me to what he called “huddles,” the midweek youth event at Park Avenue. When I went with him that first Wednesday night I couldn’t believe my eyes! For one, there were over 100 middle and high school students. In addition, there were adults leading that night that I found out were full-time staff members being paid just to work with young people. This church staff had a youth pastor, a senior high director, and a junior high director. I left there feeling that this white church had a special blessing that my black church did not.