Making A Place For Young People to Grow

A key component of youth development is a focus on establishing nurturing environments where young people can discover their identity in Christ. Far from simple coddling, making a place for young people to grow means promoting safe, healthy, caring environments within corps and communities. Read more on the research behind the youth development concept here. Guest contributor Matt Aho shares a reflection on what it means for us within The Salvation Army.

Making A Place For Young People to Grow

13853What wonderful words. Those first three words, ‘making a place’, have resonated in my mind over the past couple of years. I have sought to understand them and what they mean for those of us in ministry. I think they first caught my attention because of their direction to action, the type of action that can be taken by anyone. A bird makes a place for its coming offspring. A child makes a place for their most precious stuffed animal. Jesus is making a place right now for us in heaven (John 14:2-3).

But what type of place should we who participate in Christ’s ministry make?

I admit I don’t fully understand the answer. I don’t think it was ever meant to be fully understood. The open-endedness of the question makes room for faith, innovation and the change that happens over the passing of time. And that question continues to wonderfully resonate with and challenge believers over the years. How do we make a place? Why? What type of place is it? Who is it for?

Making A Place Within The Salvation Army

6850I think The Salvation Army started with one man making a place for others. As William Booth gathered women and men to his mission, plans for a wonderful place were made. Almost like building a house. They had great ideas of beautiful walls, a solid foundation, a roof that covered any who drew near, and an open door amongst other things. But as they started building they realized it takes a lot more to build a beautiful house than just wonderful ideas. It takes workers, tools, resources, experts, feedback, communication, and more.

I have chosen to live in this place, this house that was started many years ago. As I look around I see a lot of walls halfway built; crooked frames, leaks in the roof, and broken window panes. I also see lots of good doors, and a firmly placed foundation. I want The Salvation Army to be beautiful for God, but it seems we’ve stopped thinking about that wonderful question, “How do we make this place what God intended?” Not just for the young people, but for the old ones too, and everyone in between. Since we’ve stopped wrestling with that question, it feels like we’ve stopped building something that will last.

A Place For Me?

15204I never hear the question, “How can we make a place for you, Matt?” All I hear is, “How can you serve The Salvation Army?” I don’t have a problem with the second question; I think it is a delightful question when placed in context of the larger work of Christ, but I just want it to be asked after the first question. I want to have a place for me within The Salvation Army. I want to feel like I belong, like who I am becoming is important to others even if I fail. I want to feel like my choices can make a difference to the organization, and that my gifts are valued.

If I don’t have a place, why should I stay? I feel I have found my place–my home away from my true, heavenly home–but it’s still not fully built. So the question still needs to be asked, “How do we continue to make this the place God intends it to be?”


  • Who is The Salvation Army for?
  • Is it really important to stop and consider what we’re building?
  • How do we make The Salvation Army a place for all people?
  • Do you feel you have a place in your corner of The Salvation Army? Why or why not?
  • What makes you invest in The Salvation Army as your home?
  • Richard Forney

    I have an appreciation for the many questions raised here. Now an officer, having been a youth ministries coordinator for many years, I understand these questions more than most know, and have wrestled with them many times. The blueprint metaphor is a good one, the house that God built. I sense that you too, like me, can relate more to Nehemiah than a builder/defender of a small portion of the wall. Each serves a vital role in the construction. If you have a vision, a dream for what can be that goes beyond the prescribed defined format, you may often be frustrated with what you see. This is often true in every profession scrutinizing the craftsmanship of others in the work you are familiar with. Within the Salvation Army, our corps, and Q’s (DH & TH) there are those charged with areas of oversight. There is site acquisition and preparation, foremen, financing, permits to be secured, sub-contractors, and those on site who will and do occupy the dwelling itself. In both program and structure it’s no surprise there are layers of oversight, this is to be expected. To assume one can walk on a construction site, and disregard any of those in a position of leadership would be clearly illogical. To want to have a voice in the process is a longing in the hearts of visionary leaders who care about the process, the builders, and the final product. I agree wholeheartedly, much time needs to be spent at the drawing board, exploring both the possibilities and consequences that will result in proceeding with a blueprint. There needs to be places at the leadership table for blueprints to be created, explored, and even revisited. Many voices need to be heard in this process. One can assume many things were overlooked on the blueprints because they themselves were not at the planning table, with the decision making vote in the process, but I would encourage them to pause before making that assumption. While a blueprint needs to be followed exactly, ministry takes some interesting twists, sometimes involving unknown variables like me, and you. In the end God is sovereign and to assume we can take credit for that which He created or even keep it from happening the way He intended is a bit presumptuous on our part, after all he chose us to be involved in His work. As a paid youth ministries coordinator I was sub-contracted to provide a certain leadership skill on the construction site. I say paid because the position was defined by function need, not creating a job just for me. Others applied, I was chosen. I was charged with building a structure that was open to all, and helping others find their place inside and outside the walls. I worked along side volunteers who lived within the walls of the same structure. It did not diminish my commitment or passion to say I was paid, my own family was there too, but it is an undeniable reality, I was an employee. It was a priveledge to serve in that capacity, but there was a blueprint and site foreman, and my work was directed, guided, and held to a high standard in quality and outcomes. I always had the option to walk away, but also to draw nearer, and respond to a call that would expand my ability to address the longings in my heart to address the blueprint/foreman/construction worker relationship issues. As a youth ministries coordinator I had the ability to design the internal spaces with an inviting, accepting environment, that would point people to Jesus. Today as an officer I am looking at blueprints, employing sub-contractors, and spending much time in prayer over all these. I still have a multi-layered structure to work with, no surprise there. You can be assured there are many chairs around our planning table, and a place for the voices of visionary leaders, who are even welcome to share their hearts and passion with differing opinions, new ideas, and yes even criticisms. It’s because we care that we want the concerns on our heart and our voices heard. God bless you in your continued influence on the youth and leaders you serve and area of ministry oversight.

    • Jonathan Taube

      That Nehemiah metaphor is a good framework. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      It also makes me think about an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible about the guy who designed the Pizza Hut restaurant architecture ( Rather than taking a big payment up front for his designs, he was paid a small amount for every Pizza Hut that was built. Pizza Hut expanded big time and he made a lot of money, but nowadays cities are littered with buildings that used to be Pizza Huts.

      For a long time The SA pounded out corps after corps according to the same blueprint (one that made a lot of sense at the time). Now our country is littered with dead or dying corps that haven’t adapted or changed. I think we live in an atomized culture where the cookie cutter blueprint for ministry models doesn’t really make sense. When do we rethink the whole process?