Our theme for 2018 is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with…..
The Life of a Big Kid Minister
Brittani grew up at Crescent Hill and joined the staff in March 2012. She is a graduate of the University of Louisville and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, in Richmond, Virginia. She served two churches in Virginia before returning to Louisville.
Working with teenagers has been my calling for the past 15 years or so, since I was a teenager myself. Recently it occurred to me that I never really transitioned into the adult life of the church. I went from youth to youth minister without much time spent as a “real adult” church member. I continue to reflect on what this means.
Does this makes it hard for me to fully understand what it is like to participate in church life as an adult? Is that a help or a hindrance? I think it certainly has meant that I am more in touch with what teenagers think about the world than what adults think. I am okay with that. In fact, I think teenagers see the world more clearly than adults. Teenagers have fewer preconceived notions getting in the way. They have fewer external obligations distorting their view. They have fewer “it’s always been this ways” holding them back. People are always telling them they’ll understand things better when they’re older. This probably isn’t true.
Teenagers are learning the many dangers of the world, but they haven’t given into the fear yet. They still feel invincible. Teenage brains are still forming, and thankfully most have not yet forgotten their imaginations, or their childhood knowledge. To paraphrase and idea from G.K. Chesterton: Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
I think teenagers are in the perfect position to be dragon-slayers. They don’t have adult jobs yet. They don’t have adult fears yet. But they still have their fairy tales. They can still kill the dragons the adults are hiding from and having business meetings about.
Thinking back over my life this far, I must admit that I have always resisted growing up. Childhood has always been more alluring to me than adulthood. Adolescence is the perfect mixture of both; a realm I am content to inhabit, even at 33. It is a realm where friends matter more than anything else, where burnt marshmallows taste good and we aren’t afraid to eat them after they fall on the ground. It is a place from which we can see many of the problems of the world and still believe it can be saved. It is a space where ideals can still win over budgets and politics; where heroes can still swoop in and rescue us.
The world tells us to grow up. We might be tempted to think the Bible tells us to do this also. Certainly we should train up children in the right way and we should all grow in faith and knowledge of the Lord. But do we really need to “put away childish things” forever? Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 wrote, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Adults tend to read this as a condemnation of childish thinking. But I’m not so sure. Even though Paul has put the ways of childhood behind him, as a man he admittedly knows only in part. I wonder if Paul could have been lamenting over what he has left behind. Maybe children can still see face to face while the adults are left with that dim reflection. I certainly felt more “face to face” with God in my childhood than I do now.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). For children and teenagers, the Kingdom is still a real place, some lovely combination of Never-Never Land and Psalm 23. For me, youth ministry is about finding ways to get back there, “second star to the right and straight on till morning”. It’s about making sure the Kingdom stays a real place as we make our journey into adulthood. Maybe that’s why I can’t grow up. I have to stay behind to keep the door wide open between childhood and adulthood so that our dragon-slaying faith will fit through.
My ministry philosophy is a combination of 1 Timothy 4:12 and another quote from G.K. Chesterton: Don’t let anyone look down on you or your teenagers because you are young, but set an example for the adults in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in childlike purity. For through sin, we grow old and God our Father remains younger than we.