In the Fall of 1996, I came on as a very part-time (5-10 hrs a week) Junior High Intern. At that time, I was excited to get my feet wet in Youth Ministry at a healthy and growing church while getting my degree at Bethel College. I would have never guessed that internship would turn into a full time position after college. I'm blown away at the fact that God has allowed me to stay at this same place for these past 18 years. Just think about that... the students who will be graduating High School this year were born the year I started in.
A lot has changed personally and professionally over those years and a lot has stayed the same. As I was driving in to the church and walking into my office (which is the seventh office space I've had since starting here), I found myself reflecting on some of the more significant things I've learned over these past 18 years. With it being year 18, here's 18 lessons I've learned:
- Students have blown me away. They are naive and willing enough to take the Bible at it's word and step out in faith.
- Students have broken my heart. I've watched destructive decisions as well as just downright hurtful things said or done to me. If anyone goes in this hoping to see everything go perfectly and everyone like you, be prepared for disappointment. There are a lot of painful pit stops along this 18 year road.
- I can't fix people. If I were to be honest, I think I initially stepped into ministry with this being the motivation. I was going to fix the world's problems due to the calling God had placed on my life. I can't fix people. That's God's job, and sometimes, he doesn't even want to fix the things I think He should fix.
- Fruit can't be judged on my feelings. I've had moments I've walked off a stage and whispered "Nailed It!" under my breath only to realize students weren't tracking at all. I've had other moments I felt like everything was a mess and even wondered if I committed heresy only to have a student (or even multiple students) share how much they were challenged or how God used my words.
- Ministry is full of seasons... I have to embrace the season I'm in.
I started as an older friend then moved to big brother. Now I play a bit of a Dad role.
I was hands on with students, then hands on with volunteers. Now I'm hands on with Staff.
I was Junior High, then High School. Now I'm a little College and a little Middle and still a decent amount of High School.
I could go on and on. Each season had it's major bonuses as well as it's shortfalls and trials. The biggest shortfalls were when I found myself longing for a different season instead of leaning in to the season I was in.
- Teenagers can lead the charge for the entire church. I've personally seen student movments in worship, evangelism and justice set a tone that the entire church body has joined in on.
- There is always more I can do. There's always one more call, one more project and one more student slipping through the cracks. Sabbath is key. You have to say no.
- Youth Ministers will be misunderstood... Deal with it. You will get labeled disorganized, lazy and/or immature. Student Ministry does not fully fit inside a nice tidy box. You can only plan ahead so much with teenagers. Organization has to be thrown out the door at times. It takes a little bit of crazy to stick with Middle and High School students. Some people won't "get it" when it comes to what you're doing. Keep moving forward.
- The role of the pastor's spouse is under-appreciated, overlooked and invaluable. I'm dead meat without her. She always has my back. She has more to do with what's going on than anyone realizes.
- There is no such thing as balance in the immediate. Ministry is no doubt a marathon, but it is not one that is run at one even pace. It's sprint, rest, sprint, jog, walk, sprint, rest big time, sprint, sprint some more, walk, sprint again, rest...
- The Senior Leadership/Youth Pastor relationship is the key to longevity. I am very blessed to be under the leadership structure I am under. I'm loved, encouraged, resourced and empowered by a Senior Pastoral team (namely Dave, Joe and Terry) and an amazing Church Board. I've seen far too many youth ministry casualties in my SM friends along the way due to unhealthy relationships between the Senior Pastor, Church Elder, Direct Supervisor, etc. and the Youth Pastor.
- Overnighters are from hell. Enough said.
- Occupational Ministry is one of the loneliest professions out there. I am so blessed to be a part of a church where there is multiple staff. Still, the fences have to be high at times on who you "let in." Satan also loves to beat the crud out of you and convince you that you are alone in the journey.
- The longer I do this, the more I realize how little I know.
- There is no profession tougher than parenting. I used to get so ticked at how I saw parents handling situations with their kids... then I became the parent of 3.
- I am broken. I have so little to offer left to myself. He (the one who is in me) has more to offer than anyone could ask or imagine. This is the reason my ministry cry is the same as John the Baptist, "Less of me, God. More of You."
- Methodology is way overrated. I'm all about excellence in programming and relevance. The message must be packaged in a way that it can truly take root (read the parable of the Sower). However, we spend far to much time in the church world debating large v small, attractional v missional, progressive v traditional. Kind of makes me want to puke writing it. Jesus. Simply Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit is way underrated.That moment when the Spirit of God breaks through. When light overtakes darkness. When chains are broken. When life overtakes death. When hope is restored. When a Middle School student "gets it" for the first time. When a High School girl leads her best friend to Christ. When a student returns 10 years later and shares what God is unfolding in his life. When you see what's happening and you all you can say is, "No way... only God could do that!" That's what I long for. That's what keeps me going.