Painted between 1510-1512 AD, is an Italian fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was painted by a well-known artist named Michelangelo. Measuring 18 feet by 10 feet, it depicts the Biblical creation of Adam. At the center of this painting is the connected fingertips of Adam and God suggesting the connection between humanity and the divine.
What was Michelangelo thinking when he brought this painting to life?
It seems to beg the question, is this possible? Can we have a connection with God? Can we know him? Is He accessible?
In the 5th century there was a highly religious group of people known as the Celts. They covered much of Europe. The Celts believed, particularly the Celts in Ireland, that there were actual physical locations where the veil between heaven and earth became very thin. These places oftentimes were oriented around nature, like sun, moon, stars, mountains and oceans. These places were known as thin places or thin spaces. It was where the veil or curtain between heaven and earth became razor thin.
This concept has caused me to drastically change the way I view what happens within the four walls of our youth room. For many years, I confess, that my concept of youth ministry was to create as much fun as possible. If you combined enough high energy music, pepperoni pizza and dodgeball, you were doing effective ministry. What began to shift my mindset was the realization that the times where students seemed to have a deep and significant connection with God were times where I was more intentional with the hour and a half we had together. The effectiveness of my ministry had less to do with budget and excitement and more to do with realizing that my time with my students was sacred.
In the Old Testament, Jacob is on the run after stealing his brother, Esau’s, birthright. He is exhausted and falls asleep at a place called Bethel. He has a dream about a staircase with angels descending and ascending from heaven to earth. God speaks to him in this dream and gives him the covenantal blessing that had originated with Abraham. When Jacob wakes up he is shocked that even on the run, God was present with him. He says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was UNAWARE of it” – Genesis 28:16.
Unaware of it? It’s like Jacob had to slow down enough to come to the realization that no matter where he was, he was in a thin space. That, perhaps, the space between his humanity and God’s divinity was closer than he ever dreamed.
What if you could see your ministry space, your ministry experience, your ministry event as a thin space where, with a little more intention, students could come into contact with the living God? Here is what I am convinced of, many have been doing ministry for a long time to build numbers, keep numbers, impress parents, impress pastors or prove something. In doing so they may have missed opportunity to show students that God is present and they have been unaware.
Here are three ways we can curate thin spaces:
1. Treat the mundane like it’s miraculous. See every conversation as a way to awaken a student to the reality of God’s presence. Look for teachable moments in the day to day grind to point out where God is at work. Demonstrate to your students what it looks like to live a life aware of God’s presence. As Galatians says, keep in step with the spirit
2. Pray for potency. Stumbling into a student worship experience has a way of keeping you distracted enough that it can limit the effectiveness of the event. Instead, bathe your times with your group in prayer and ask for the power of God to be evident. Pray specifically and expect for God to show up. In fact, pray with the realization that God is present, even before anyone ever enters the room.
3. Plan ahead. Carve out times in your schedule to do long-range planning for your student worship experiences. Ask for God to lead you in deciding games, sermon series, events, worship and teaching. The best way to embrace the spontaneity of the spirit is to be well prepared ahead of time.
As you plan for your next ministry event, be reminded that the kingdom of God is near. May your youth ministry experiences become encounters with the divine. May your youth room become a thin space.