If you have been around, you may have heard me say that I miss being in vocational youth ministry. This was the first year I haven’t been on a youth retreat or a student mission trip or planned a fundraiser or the ten thousand other things youth pastors do. Some of these things I’ve literally done regularly throughout the last 12 years of my life.
Of course, I miss the students but I promise not to get overly romantic about missing all the aspects of youth ministry. For instance, I don’t miss the fundraisers. Not because I’m embarrassed by raising money for important needs but because I refuse to believe that there are so many grandparents celebrating milestone birthdays on the mornings of our car washes.
If I’m being honest, I’m grateful for having this season off. With the arrival of our third and moving to a new community without our family and the supportive friends we had in NJ, it’s been a good thing to not have a mission trip, retreats and various weekend activities. It’s not just being away for those weekends but also the time in preparation, in meetings, in the gearing up – whoever thinks a mission trip consists of a that week has never led one.
Like everybody, I’m still busy – it’s a different type these days. But I do get to be home more at night and have more weekends free. Which has helped us connect with the relationships we were fortunate enough to have prior to moving here and the new ones we are creating.
It’s good for me to feel the honestly of missing so many things in youth ministry. It was a special and important time in my life. Also, it was very beneficial and here are some of the ways how:
Teaching. If you can teach high school and/or middle school students, you can teach just about anyone. I mean that. These kids are smart, they can be tough, they can be short on attention, respect, and can be apathetic to content that is not being graded and may not seem practical. Crafting messages that have been based on Scripture, that are relevant and beneficial to their lives, interesting enough to sustain attention, prophetic enough to challenge, and encouraging enough to proclaim that there is a God who exists and loves us has been the task I’ve been tackling for years. Every teacher knows there never really is a finished product but my current preparing/delivering has certainly been shaped by youth ministry. In teaching in different adult ministry contexts throughout this past year, one of the few things that I have knowingly changed has simply been asking myself, “Who is the audience?” Different starting point, very similar methodology.
So what’s the lesson here? If you suck at teaching students, there may be a place for you in adult ministry? Not really. However, it does seem that working with students really helps in all aspects of communication.
Relational Connection – Youth ministry taught me the difference between being a talking head and the indispensable qualities of being a pastor of young people. Most of us have heard the Howard Hendricks line, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I was never really impressed with the line, probably because I hadn’t met Hendricks (or that he didn’t know to care about me ;) but everyone who cares about the people they are leading discovers some form of this maxim eventually. The other thing I learned was while you cannot be all things to all people (even if you consider yourself to be a “people person”)
You cannot relate to everyone, there is no such thing as a “universal personality.” It is impossible to learn every caveat of pop-culture and counter-culture. Part of the reason is due to the way counter-culture works – it’s intentionally exclusive.
So what’s the lesson here? If you can identify with a 14 year old girl obsessed with Twilight, you can connect with anyone? Not at all, simply celebrate all the people in your sphere of influence and build healthy Christian relationships.
Working With Dedicated Volunteers – These volunteers are the difference between the church as a serving body and a professionally pastorally run organization. They work together for sure but when volunteers are not supported by ministry staff and if ministry staff don’t have reliable volunteers, well, not only does the unity of the church suffer but very little execution of ministry and capacity for mission happens.
I’ve been preparing to do the training for our women’s Bible study tomorrow. A lot had gone into the vision of the year long before I was asked to help with the training. There’s a lot of depth to this ministry and there are a lot of people it utilizes. In fact, tomorrow there are separate training sessions for morning and evening respectively. Throughout the year they will be leading their women’s small groups through the book of Acts and I’ve been told that many of them have been leading for years and years and they do much, much more than teach.
There’s a lot of talk about “equipping and releasing” people for ministry and what qualifies as “discipleship” and what is dismissed as a Christian hobby. Dedication to the leading of the Holy Spirit from all is essential.
What’s the lesson here? Ministry involves people, time, training, and empowering others to serve. Regardless of the size of the church, there are a lot of moving parts, consider yourself blessed to play whatever role you are asked.
That last one comes natural for most youth pastors. Many don’t see the fruit of their labor for years.
I’m not going to suggest that everyone should go through youth ministry. For many reasons, I don’t think that’s true and among them is that it seems to limit how God uses people. But I do find myself extremely grateful for all the blessings of having served in youth ministry – the relationships, the memories, and how the experience continues to shape my heart and work today.
It will be interesting to reflect on how I continue to look back on this season. To the reader, feel free to share your insights on youth ministry or your respective past experiences – thanks for reading.