This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
The Story of Traveling in Bath, England
Tim Schindler serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Ministry Development at Georgetown Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky where he lives with his wife, Amy, and four awesome kids. He studied at the University of Kentucky and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and has been in youth ministry for 19 years, with the last ten at GBC. In addition to student ministry, Tim also leads the church’s contemporary worship music. Follow him on Twitter @timschindler.
Shortly after my wife, Amy, and I got married we had the opportunity to do some traveling. Actually, my wife was finishing up her Masters degree in education and was accepted into a program to complete her practice teaching in Birmingham, England in the spring of 1999. Four months into our marriage, we packed our bags and left behind all of our family and friends and set out for a five month adventure of working and traveling overseas. Our Christmas presents from our parents were train passes, so most weeks we headed to the train station on Friday evenings and came back to town on Sunday nights. January through May we spent our weekends in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Wales, and a host of other locations, exploring the many museums, castles, scenic landmarks, and cultural attractions the British had to offer. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Looking back, however, I remember a deep hesitation about whether or not we should even go at all. I mean, Amy and I had not been married long, it would be expensive, I would have to take a break from seminary, our support system of families and friends would be thousands of miles away, and it just seemed risky for our stage of life. I didn’t know it at the time, but this trip gave us the opportunity to either cripple our marriage or make it much, much stronger.
Like our visit to Bath, for example.
So early on in our stay, we pulled out the map and decided to visit Bath and its ancient Roman ruins. Sounds fun, right? So we made a reservation at the local youth hostel, probably had fast food Chinese when we got in on Friday night, and got up Saturday morning to explore. Well, being a little adventurous and very cheap, I suggested we hike down to the city center and find our bearings. My sweet wife didn’t want to dampen my enthusiasm, but mildly hinted that maybe we should research other transportation options or come up with a plan before heading out; however, she quickly acquiesced and off we went. It wasn’t long before I was walking briskly and leaving her trailing behind. I stopped at the bottom of the hill at a roundabout as she caught back up. Oblivious to her growing frustration at me, I was beginning to grumble about her not keeping up and finally let out my own complaint, “You know, if Shawn were here, I wouldn’t have to slow down and wait for him.” It’s not really all that important to know who Shawn was (my college best friend who had I had previously traveled overseas with) to know that those were a poor choice of words. “If Shawn were here??” she restated, as though to make sure I heard my own words. “Well, maybe you should have brought Shawn instead.” At this point she was no longer feeling adventurous and sat herself down, while for me it began to sink in what I had said to her— I had communicated to her that I wished she was someone else… essentially saying that who she was wasn’t enough.
So why am I sharing this story on a youth ministry blog? How many times have you heard someone say, “Where is everybody?” at a youth group meeting when attendance is low? I know my disappointment when there is a “poor turnout” for a program or event. When I or someone else says something along these lines, we are communicating that the ones who did show up don’t count. It’s as if we don’t want them, we want someone else, and they don’t really matter.
I understand what it means to put a lot of work into a big activity designed for lots and lots of teenagers. I have been in that spot where the games won’t work without more kids or there will be way too much pizza. I know what it’s like to spend a big chunk of my budget or many hours preparing a lesson without the attendance I hoped for. But what I have learned—starting with that day in Bath—is to deeply value the ones who are there. Over the years in youth ministry I feel like I have started to change my perspective and do better at really loving and appreciating the students that are right in front of me instead of the ones I wish would have come, or that another church in town is drawing, or that maybe I feel were “supposed to be there.”
By no means stop trying to invite and encourage students to come and be an important part of your youth ministry. But when the program starts, focus on the youth that came… they are enough.
At that roundabout in England, I began to change the way I thought about travel and adventure and marriage. I apologized to Amy, and we ended up having many great weekends together. And when it came to that decision to spend a semester in England, I’m not sure if we were exceptionally smart or brave, or just stupid enough, but I am very glad that we took the risk. It was some of the best days of our lives and did indeed help me learn to more fully appreciate and love the woman I share my life with.