Your ministry situation might be different. I remember getting out of the car, so many years ago as a fresh faced girl with a baby and thinking that the added responsibility of my husband to preach and teach, not only to the congregation on Sundays, but also the youth group as well, was a special added bonus for me.
I’m trained as a middle and high school English and reading teacher. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and writer so the opportunity to continue to pour into youth while not teaching but staying at home with our children excited me.
Although our congregation was small and lacked many youth, our youth group had become a community group of sorts for kids who did not necessarily attend our church on Sunday but were more than willing to come and have a meal in the parsonage and play games and suffer through (with teenage sighs) a teaching time.
Students are attracted to my husband. He’s exuberant and has a quick wit with a joke always at the ready. Week after week groups of students came. Over the years we’ve seen them come and go, grow up, start families of their own. But those first few years of ministering to youth were hard.
It turns out I’m not particularly made for youth ministry. The loudness and chaos without the order of a classroom is hard on me. I often forgot to enjoy the students, build relationships, love them like a mentor and not a mother or teacher. But the Lord guides and instructs, not just students, but often the leaders too. They kept coming back, this core group of high schoolers that enjoyed us.
We ended up enjoying them too. They taught me to see the ministry of laughter and how living life in front of them could model young adulthood and help them grow in the Lord. Our hope was to show what it looked like to live God’s calling on your life through hard and painful times, even if their exuberance woke up one of my sleeping babies, or broke the support beam in my couch, or, in a bad high school romance break up, I had to explain to a parent why their son had kicked a tree and broken a toe.
I remember one day, a few years into youth ministry, when Adam had met with a young man who was in some trouble. He turned to me and asked, “Does it even make a difference?” And I pulled some deep wisdom from the Lord, and my teaching days, to comfort him.
With students you pour and pour into them. You don’t always see the dividends right away. That’s the hard part. You instruct, guide, and teach and then you back off, you wait and see, hoping that something makes an impact. The hope of ministering to youth is that you learn in the years to come that it made a difference. And you keep praying. A lot.
It takes patience.
We’ve seen the kids come and go. We’ve seen some students weather terrible circumstances gripping onto the Lord. We’ve seen them turn away from Jesus to come back and weep at His feet. We’ve seen some follow Him unwaveringly and follow Him into full time ministry. Each one is a little bit like my own child. I may not have birthed them, but I’ve fed them all countless meals, cleaned up after them (even with my famous line, “I’m A mom but I’m not YOUR mom”), cheered them on at sporting events and high school graduations, and cried with them and for them. I’ve learned to lead the groups of girls into deeper relationships with each other and the Word of God, not worrying about whether they think I’m the crazy and outrageous one.
Ministering to youth in the church never looks the same for long. The students change, their needs change, as some move on, others take their place. Sometimes we don’t have enough seats and on a few occasions we’ve had no kids come to an event. It has changed for us over the years, but the kids keep showing up. Now it’s our own children attending. Sometimes we stand on the sidelines while the students play gaga ball. We no longer have lock-ins because we need our sleep. Our mission stays the same year after year with these students: love them and help them learn to love Jesus.
The Lord provides these students to you for a reason. Is there something you can learn from them? Is there something you should be teaching them? I so often used to look at youth ministry as an add-on to our “real” ministry and have over the years shifted my focus to view it as one of my most beloved ministries in the church. Students today are looking for role models and someone who is genuine and real in a world where so much is the highlight reel of social media. Let’s show them how to live persistent and full lives in Jesus.
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