It’s a Tuesday morning. I am going into work. But today is different because it’s a Tuesday. I walk into the doors of a church to see the faces of people I call friends. But they are more than that; they are fellow youth pastors, people who understand youth ministry. I see and hear again a zeal and love for God and the students we serve. We share stories, laugh, and pray together. They get what I get. They experience what I experience. As I leave that that room to continue my day I feel refreshed because I am reminded of why I go to work every day: to serve, love and be loved by a great big God who cares deeply for students. So whether you have support from other youth pastors or you feel all alone in ministry, I want to remind you of why we all do what we do.
I can get so caught up in doing the work of God that I completely miss what God is doing in and through the students God has entrusted to me. I love witnessing the moments when a student shares something that could only come from the Holy Spirit. They got it! In that moment I am reminded that students are so much more than what we give them credit for. Yes they are young and have a lot to learn, but they are resilient. Today students go to school and are literally made fun of for being a Christian. For one of them to take a stand in their school for Jesus Christ is a big deal. As a youth pastor, when you tell them that they can change the world through Jesus Christ, they believe you. They may have no clue how to do it, or where to start, but something inside their heart begins to beat.
God wired teenagers to buck the system and test limits and realities. Students today don’t want to believe in something that is not true. They will put it to the test. If it’s bogus, they will know it and walk away. When the Spirit of the Living God grabs hold and they see Truth for what it is, they cannot be stopped. An example of this is when one of my students last year decided that her school was more than school. It became her mission field. She decided to get a group together and pray before school. However, for many days, it was just her praying in the hallway alone. All her friends who said they would come didn’t. She just wanted to give up, but she felt God speak to her and say, “Keep praying.” Soon, two more people joined her each morning before class. They were praying for opportunities to share the incredible news of Jesus with their classmates. Then one day in Psychology class something happened. Four of her friends (1 being Agnostic, one a Muslim, one Hindu, and one was Baha’i) began to talk about heaven. They asked her if they were all going to hell for not believing in Jesus. She prayed, “Ok God, this is not exactly the opportunity I was looking for,” but in faith she said, “Yeah, I believe that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven.” In youth ministry, we call that a win. When against all odds one of our students doesn’t waiver in the wind. From that day forward the three of them continued to pray and every day for the next two weeks when she had psychology class, she had a legitimate conversation about Jesus with these same four friends.
Most of us are familiar with the fact that youth ministry is usually not that clean. Most of the time youth pastors find themselves wading through the muddy waters of teenage drama, mom and dad getting divorced, sex, drugs and learning to become who they are. But in the process of sorting all that out, and helping students find their identity in Christ rather than in friendships or brand name clothing, we begin to see that most students are simply unsure about a lot of things. Sure they “believe” but many of them don’t even know what that means.
The most important privilege we as youth pastors possess is the opportunity to help a student develop a faith of their own and not just what they grew up learning from mom and dad. That may sound simple, but it is huge! It is similar to graduating from driving the minivan on a learners permit with dad in the car to a full drivers license in your very own car. All of the sudden the faith they grew up with becomes an undeniable reality. And just like when you first started driving and you would drive anywhere just for the opportunity to be behind the wheel, students who experience the presence of God never want to leave it.
Every summer I send students out in groups to meet people on the street and to share Jesus and “do the stuff” of the Kingdom. Afterward we meet back at church and tell of what God did. This past summer we focused on the homeless population downtown. I know that may be considered dangerous to some, but I believe that students need to see beyond their own world and be taught to bring light to dark places. By the end of the night, I listened to story after story of students being so moved by compassion that they went to Wal-Mart and spent a hundred dollars of their own money on shoes and food to bring back to a homeless man they just met. Others simply stepped out and prayed for people for the first time. But no matter what happened, they experienced the love God has for people and they were begging to do it again. These are the things that make youth ministry worth it. In a world where teenagers are looking for something genuine, we get the privilege of teaching them about something more real than the air they breathe, and impact a life who may just impact a generation.