Reflections on Youth Ministry in South Africa #1
In the first article of our new series Rooted: Reflections on youth ministry in South Africa, I connected with Monde Ossborn Madlala (‘Ozzy’) who is the youth pastor of Umhlali Methodist Church (UMC) in KwaZulu-Natal. Our reflections centred around:
- Ozzy’s typical week
- The irreplaceable value of building relationship with youth
- Worship without instruments and the beauty of the body of Christ
- Pastoral ministry in schools
- Ministering to youth of different race and economic backgrounds
- Serving the God of discomfort
Ozzy’s typical week
As a young adult, Ozzy studied theology at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg while working as the youth pastor at Metro Methodist Church. After completing his studies, he went to serve as the youth pastor at Clairmont Methodist Church in Cape Town for three years and has been with UMC since 2018.
Ozzy’s ministry constitutes many of the traditional expressions of youth ministry such as a Friday evening and Sunday morning program. However, he also fulfils a ‘chaplaincy role’ at Destiny Life Academy which is situated on the church premises. This aspect of his ministry includes:
- Leading worship at assemblies with the school worship team
- Sports coaching
- Oversight of a student led break time bible study
- Pastoral ministry to the learners
The irreplaceable value of building relationship with youth
Ozzy has a deep love of music and passion for leading worship but also for evangelism. Below Ozzy describes how connecting with young people over music leads to something more:
My real joy is that most of the kids start just wanting to learn an instrument and then finding later you meet Jesus. They just want to play an instrument. Yeah, they want to learn the drums, they just want to play their favourite something on the piano. They just want to play their favourite song on the guitar. For me, the instruments are my point of my connection with the kids. So that’s where we build the relationship.
So, I teach you how to play a ‘D’ on the guitar, a 4-4 beat on the drums or a chord on a piano. I then start to get to know you. Start to come to your house. I start to come to your soccer match on a weekend and then we start to build relationship from there. You then start to say, “Ah Ozzy is not just our youth pastor.” It’s more than that. We’re not just singing songs, but there’s something more to life. That’s been my joy. Doing life with these young people.
Worship without instruments and the beauty of the Body of Christ
With Ozzy’s background in music and leading worship teams and considering the prevailing culture of large worship bands in the church, I was wondering what insights he could give for the many youth groups which don’t have access to music equipment and gather in simple settings. I was profoundly encouraged by his thoughts which led beyond worship to the gift of the body of Christ.
I grew up in church without a band. It was totally a black Methodist Church. No band. Harmonies. Singing. Just a bell.
I think for worship to be meaningful, yes, it’s awesome to have guitars or to have a good venue, but some of the most beautiful, meaningful times for me have been with no guitars, nothing, just a cappella.
I think for someone who’s doing youth work in that type of place, you need to recognize young people’s gifts. You have to recognize someone who can sing, who can start a song, who can do poetry. Yeah, so I think in that type of setting when you don’t have instruments you look for those people.
Worship is a lifestyle. It’s not just the music, it’s much more than just the songs and singing and playing a guitar. So I will say to someone whose in that setting, for you to really bring out the Christ in young people, is for you to ask, “What are their gifts?”
And most of those young people are gifted in acting, gifted in poetry. Yeah, you bring that in as part of your worship. You can also add some Djembe or bongo drums which aren’t too expensive.
I think you just need to be aware of the people you have.
We put worship in a container, in a lunch box and say this is what worship should look like. Sort of Westernised worship instead of just being aware of who we have and what we have in the kids we have around us and tapping into their talent and stepping into their gift and saying, “Wow, you’re an amazing poet, and can you do that for us, so amazing reader, can you read for us, the amazing actor and all of that.” The kids get so encouraged by that but sometimes you can often miss that because as youth pastors we all want to save the nation. We want to want to do everything. We want to be the worship band. Want to be the preacher. We want to be the game facilitator. We want to be the tea pourer.
Remember that we are the body of Christ. Young people must be a part of the worship, the youth ministry. When they have a role to play, they feel that this is my church.
Pastoral ministry in schools
Ozzy has a unique opportunity to be present in a school setting. Many youth workers are only ‘visitors’ in that setting and often don’t have such access to a school. Below Ozzy describes some of the challenges young people are facing and the missional aspect of his work.
Yeah, a lot of anxiety. A lot of brokenness with family structure, especially in my community. Yeah, a lot of pain. A lot of hardship. A lot of questions about God and Christianity. Kids don’t think it’s cool to be a Christian. Identity issues. Many parents are divorced, so kids are here and then there. And that’s why I think God wants us to be a family to one another, a blessing to one another. So, you need to make God real because I see this everyday at school not just on the weekend and with those that wouldn’t come to church.
Ministering to youth of different race and economic backgrounds
Because Ozzy mentioned that his youth group is comprised of young people who came from the nearby holiday town of Ballito and from the local township of Nkobongo, I was curious to understand how this plays out on a Friday night (when they could still meet in-person). I was encouraged and challenge by his response.
Friday night is really funny. I think if you come there, just expect you’re gonna hear a lot of Zulu and lot of English because for some kids I have to explain some of the English words. Yeah, so for me, I preach in two languages. There are English speaking kids and Zulu speaking kids, so I think that’s the beauty when I see the typical two groups that meet, the language can sometimes be a barrier, but I’m there too without broken English.
So the two groups. One group is basically from around Umhlali and Ballito and then one group is from Nkobongo, which is not that really wealthy place. And a lot of kids will come from there, so we’ll pick them up and bus them with our cars to the church. It’s the way they have fun time together.
Initially you find that those who know each other for a long time will stick with each other and then the new group. But as we started two years ago, the group started joining together becoming one group.
So, it’s a huge adjustment for them as well in getting along. But it was cool because I throw them into groups together. We did activities together. We did skits together. We had a Youth Day together before they came to my youth. So, they sort of knew each other. And you see how it changes these kids when they meet one another from such different circumstances. When you find another kid coming from Nkobongo has no name brand T shirt and you do. You be grateful for what you have because they’re grateful for the coffee that I’ll give them.
And you see these young people who wouldn’t mix at school coming together in the church.
And to see each other as more than just a Christian brother, but to be aware of people’s needs as well. The split and the division we have between the haves and the have nots and the communities that we scared to go to. And I think when I took all my youth guys, the one time we went to Nkobongo itself to meet there at the school and that’s an experience I want our youth to have, when you go into that community where you have never been. It opens your eyes.
Serving the God of discomfort
My conversation with Ozzy reminded me that we serve a God of ‘discomfort’. The God who
“…being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
Ministry with youth in South Africa is uncomfortable. We are constantly challenged by the Holy Spirit to step outside the comfort of our Friday and Sunday youth programmes and to incarnationally walk among the young people of this country. We are led by the Spirit to be open to new expressions of worship, acknowledging the influence of our cultural heritage. We must accept the God mandated responsibility of playing a unifying role among the youth, even if it means entering communities that are foreign to us.
The transformative, redeeming work of Christ is uncomfortable in our lives but it’s the mark of our obedience.