Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
January 2012


By Chris Wilterdink

Given the chance, how would you divide the following word?


Most naturally the spaces make either GOD IS NOWHERE or GOD IS NOW HERE. I’m sure that many of us have used this simple exercise to look at assumptions we hold about God, perhaps discussions on the difficulties of Biblical translation, or even discussions on the optimistic or pessimistic natures of personal faith. The ambiguous nature of the word has even inspired an online following where discussions about difficult faith questions can take place.

After listening to a recent keynote regarding shifting perspective, I came across this word exercise and for the first time started to pay more attention to the spaces than the letters. The letters carry sounds that we can make sense of, but the spaces are what define what the letters can or cannot do. Likewise, the concept of space can define what your ministry with young people is capable of and means to all who see it.

Safe Space – Ministry with young people thrives when the space where ministry happens has clearly defined boundaries and expectations that keep people safe. Safe spaces may look different from group to group and ministry to ministry, but some of the characteristics to aspire toward include: accepting attitudes, behavioral standards, and a commitment to love and care for all participants of the ministry.

Dedicated Space – All ministries benefit from having a space that feels like its own. Look at the physical spaces where ministry takes place – what about that space helps it feel like a space dedicated to a particular group? Symbols? Colors? Arrangement of furniture or lack there of? Cleanliness? Does the space mirror the personality of the group appropriately? If the space used for an individual ministry is shared space with other groups, what can be done to help separate groups feel as though the space is meant just for them?

Outer Space – Recognizing the context where ministry takes place is hugely important! The environment around any ministry has a lot of influence upon those who participate in said ministry. Often Christians are asked to be in the world but not of the world, and helping young people understand how to bring their faith into the outer space beyond specific meeting times will benefit them as individuals and the ministry in its entirety. Paul recognized this concept as his advice and letters to different communities of early Christians testifies. Paying attention to the influence of the environment outside your ministry allows leaders to better offer meaningful worship, studies, time as a group. Taking this idea a step further, “if the world is our parish”, having an idea of what will make the world a better place will help define our mission as disciples.

Sacred Space – Moses steps in front of the burning bush and he is commanded to remove his sandals when he stands on holy ground. As God is in all things, time can be spent simply looking for what makes a gathering time or a gathering space holy. Identifying the spaces that define our ministries as sacred will help to keep God in all things, whether they are in depth Bible studies, fellowship groups, or mini-golf or bowling nights!

Personal Space – Jesus often took time on his own after encounters with both large and small groups to pray. Jesus valued his time alone with God to refresh, review, and reflect. This has been referred to by many as sabbath time. Leaders and ministries need to embrace this time as well. Leaders can often face burnout unless they craft time and space for themselves to be with God. The space carved out for leaders will refine and define their purpose, as well as allow them to recharge their batteries! Likewise, ministries should take time to reflect on their purpose for existence periodically. If a group or ministry has begun to lack definition or purpose, allowing that group some personal space and time for reflection and connection with God will define the future of that group.

In closing, imagine our language existing without any spaces. It would be more ambiguous, with clarity and meaning becoming entirely dependent on the readers and listeners as opposed to the writers and speakers. For those who lead ministry, embracing the spaces that define a ministry will put more control in the hands of leadership and clarify the purpose of that ministry existing. Young people crave definition and clarity of purpose – ministries that embrace the idea of space as a defining factor have a much better chance of surviving and thriving. After all, isn’t the idea of God being ‘now here’ much more comforting than God being ‘nowhere’?

Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.