Dear youth ministry friends,
Having spent the past weekend at our annual conference’s annual winter youth event, I just wanted you to know that I love you.
You have a task that is more likely to result in condemnation than praise when some mom feels that little Johnny has been slighted, or when that spontaneous idea that seemed fun with the kids results in a tongue lashing from the Trustees chair. You usually stand in the middle, pulled to and fro by the wishes, whims and desires of Sr. Pastors, parents, and kids alike. And, as we all know, the youth minister is usually the first to get cut when the budgets is tight and the first to be cast aside when the boss (the Sr. Pastor, not God) begins to get nervous about his own numbers and looks to make a change to “right the ship,” meaning that most of you live in constant fear that the axe will fall and you will be having to discern if this youth ministry thing is indeed your calling or if it’s time to start selling insurance.
For wages that sometimes barely add up to a living wage, you take on an awesome responsibility — the spiritual care and nurture of a bunch of folks who are developmentally challenged to think about much beyond their own drama, needs, desires, wants — the American adolescent. Sure you do it because kids are much more fun than their parents, but even so, it’s a tough row to hoe, for you find yourself urging kids to a radical relationship with God in the face of their parents who simply want them to clean their room, not do drugs, and study hard to get into a good college. You come with a heart that wants kids to experience what you have experienced, the radical call of Jesus upon your life, but very often it seems like kids and parents alike are more concerned about the upcoming ski trip than the condition of the soul, and you find yourself skiing uphill in the task of making disciples for Jesus Christ (in all honesty, those of us engaged in ministry with the parents often feel the same way).
So, I love you. You’re due for some love, and I want to send some your way. And know that if I ever get to a point where I can hire one of you, I’m going to do what I have to do to cover your back with all.
Look, I’m not going to be hesitant in recognizing your failings and limitation, many of which are due to failings by the church. As I’ve walked around and listened today I’ve recognized that we aren’t very good in making sure you have the theological, spiritual, and psychological training needed to best carry out the task of ministry we’ve called you to. This leads to worship and other practices that often seem to be driven more by what’s cool and hip than carrying out a specific theological purpose. Your undivided loyalty to “your kids” sometimes led some of you to get crazy about making sure “your kids” have the best spots in the room regardless of the needs of others. We as a church perpetuate a system that rewards those in larger churches as successes to be emulated, which can make those folks in smaller congregations who don’t have all sorts of resources feel like chopped liver when they gather together with others, sometimes leading them to question whether they belong at all. And, the pressures we all face make it easy to fall on platitudes and pop theology without really being able to create a space where kids who have serious questions can ask them safely and without judgment, allowing them to be loved into the kingdom rather than convinced or coerced. We all fail to recognize at times that asking good questions is often much more important than having the right answers.
As I said, many of those failings are more about our structures than any lack on your part, and I can hardly blame you for that.
So keep your chins up and your heads down. Know that there are people watching you and cheering you on. Most importantly, take care of our kids and love them deeply, helping them to experience the love of Christ in all you do.
I love you guys.
I just thought you should know.