Happy Monday everyone,
Week three here and going strong! I hope you are enjoying the topics and responses as much as I am. Please remember to check back each week as we continue to post new thoughts on different topics. Here is a look at some upcoming month’s topics.
February – Bible Study Month
March – Worship Month
April – Perspective’s Month (From people like Parents, Youth, Children’s Ministers, etc.)
May – Camp Month
It is shaping up to be a great year. Please leave a comment so we can hear your thoughts too! Here is this week’s post about……
“Why do you want to do youth ministry?”
Jeremy Colliver is the Minister with Students at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. If you were to come up to the Youth Wing on a Sunday or Wednesday you would get a good look at what happens when you mix ADD and Jesus.
I was sitting on the plane, buckled in and ready to take off, when the lady next to me piped up, “So what do you do?”
There are times when I’m asked this that I just make something up, but this lady seemed generally interested so I told her, “I’m a Minister with Students.” Her response, “You mean like a Youth Minister. Well, God bless you and thank you, but there is no way I would ever do that.” Before I could even respond, she followed up with, “So how long before you become the pastor?” I laughed and we began to talk as I shared stories of the students in our ministry. When the plane landed I think I had convinced her that being a Youth Minister is something I set out to be, instead of a stepping stone to a future career.
The lady on the plane’s reaction was not new to me. I was shocked the first time I heard something like it, but have become aware that many people think the same thing. I don’t think ministering with students is a stepping stone to one day becoming a pastor. I don’t think it a burden to minister with young people and “their technology” and “lack of attention and respect”. In fact, I love ministering with youth.
As young people enter into their teenage years their main purpose is to discover who they have been created to be. Their changing styles and music, who they like and look up to, and what they are interested in is constantly changing. All of these things are like going into a clothing store and trying on different items until you find what fits you. Youth are trying on all of these different things to determine who they are, and what a better time to get involved in someone’s life than when they are making these decisions. What a better time for someone to discover they are a child of God, then when they are trying to figure out who they are. If a youth leaves our ministry understanding nothing else other than they are a child of God, we have done well.
I love seeing that light go off in their head as they embrace that relationship with Christ and start to try it out. I’m energized by helping youth discover the gifts that they have been blessed with and then helping them try them out. There are days that I do wonder if Whole Foods is hiring, but all of those thoughts leave my head when I have a student come to me with that flicker in their eye and says, “I know what God wants me to do.”
Carol Harston has served as Minister to Youth at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. Born and raised at Highland, Carol has found the joy of caring for youth in the same community that shaped her as a young person. Outside of youth ministry, Carol has her hands full as a mom to James (3 years old) and Collier (9 months old) and wife to Drew (orthopedic surgery resident and faithful youth volunteer).
My first sense of call came my senior year at Wake Forest. As I ran through the fields in Reynolda Gardens, my mind dreamed of the future and found myself caught up in the call to love the world. If I got paid for it, all the better. During my year between college and seminary, I began to work with the youth at Highland as an intern while they searched for a new youth minister. I loved working with the youth and ended up becoming the youth minister the following year in 2007 as I began my studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
In the early years, I spent time trying to make the Youth Room inviting. I courted youth with games and exciting trips. I planned curriculum to warn against the dangers of drinking and doubt (presumably the greatest dangers in youth ministry). Underneath all my efforts, I was working to save youth…to save them from themselves and to save them from the toxic youth culture of our day.
My attempts at playing the role of “savior” brought mixed results. The church appreciated the dedication and energy I gave the youth ministry. And yet, my sense of success hinged on the behavior of the youth. When I heard that a youth was partying on the weekend, I felt responsible and ineffective. When the youth talked too much during worship, I felt frustrated and disrespected. When numbers were not high at an event, I felt disappointed and defeated. Clouded by my insecurities as a minister, I couldn’t help but feel as if the perceived success or defeat of my ministry reflected on my own abilities (or lack there of).
The marvelous news – the good news – is God lives and moves despite our self-centered and misguided intentions. Over the past seven years, God has refined, reshaped, and reignited the call within me as a youth minister. My greatest teachers have been the youth who have opened their hearts to me over coffee during our “life-chats,” who have shown-up time and time again to talk life and faith on Wednesday nights, who have exuded vulnerability and joy at camp, and who have embodied love in the places they feel uncomfortable when on mission trips. They taught me that my calling to love the world means that I reorient my perspective away from my own success and to the God who is alive.
I still take time in my job to clean up the Youth Room and plan the ski trip because they are pieces that are important. But they are instruments through which I practice my ultimate sense of calling and purpose as a minister – to actively trust that God is engaged and participating in the lives of young people. I trust that God is wading through the challenges and disappointments of the day, comforting through the voices of family and friends, and opening eyes to the opportunities to embody love in the world.
So I ask youth about their lives and I listen carefully. I engage with my fellow ministers in my congregation in caring for the larger congregation. I consult scripture and theologians for wisdom. I empower other adults to serve as leaders and mentors. When I sense the Spirit guiding us and calling us, I do my best to articulate, embody, and share the way God’s love is transforming us to be the people God deeply desires us to be.
Andy Farmer is Minister to Students at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. He is drawn toward those enduring growing pains and desiring light-heartedness. He and his wife Emily are expecting their first child.
For better and worse, I am well-trained in downplaying the role of what I want (at least in public). It’s an essential habit for those who toe the line between true and false humility or who have a first-born bent toward “the right thing” in the abstract. In general, I’m with the quiet minority unwilling to accept the mainstream’s full endorsement of “what you’re passionate about” as the ultimate vocational director. This distrust of desire is why I tend to put off the question “Why do you want to do youth ministry?” until the last minute.
In the spring/summer of my seminary graduation and ordination, the big question for me was not “Do I want to do youth ministry?” but “In what way?” Most of my experience was in relatively long-winded internships in local congregations, and I knew I had a high view of church work. At the same time, I was thoroughly enjoying student-teaching New Testament in an Episcopal high school and had pretty much always daydreamed of teaching and coaching full-time.
Even though it became increasingly improbable that a teaching opportunity was going to surface, I still wanted to stay open to it. And even up until my last interview with the church that eventually hired me, I felt no need to act like I wasn’t. When a close friend listened to me explain my happy indifference about pursuing the church job and responded with “Do you really want to do this?,” I considered that maybe the search committee would appreciate knowing that their candidate actually wanted to be there.
I decided to be more expressive about my desire to “do this” in that last interview, but I didn’t have to make it up. I had identified plenty of reasons congregational youth ministry was a logical fit. One was the suspicion that this kind of work might end up being fun. My indifference was not the “I couldn’t care less” kind but the Jesuit kind: the freedom to suspend a decision, to stand in the doorway without walking in or walking out, until wisdom shows up. I’m just not the kind of person who needs to feel an overwhelming “peace about it.” My peace is in being honest about the tension and hesitant to resolve it.
When I get to have “calling” conversations with youth, I lean toward an approach not too far from “Love God, and do whatever you please” (Augustine) or, as Barbara Brown Taylor heard God say to her, “Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me.” For Taylor, the notion that “I could be a priest or a circus worker – God did not really care” helped her see that vocation is less about what you do and more about how you do it. Even if I’m unable to quit drinking the “you are what you do” Kool-Aid, I do have some desire, of all things, to do so. And even though I don’t really care enough to make time for God, I sure wish I did. I need to know – and teenagers need to know – that that counts for something.
It’s my comfort zone, then, to pray with Thomas Merton,
“I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.”
I want to do youth ministry because it’s the best thing I can think to do right now to stay connected to that desire.
Andrew Noe is the Student Minister at Rosemont Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. He enjoys superheroes, and trying to be funny. He is married to the wonderful and amazing Hannah Noe. They have a super intelligent dog named Daphne, and a water-obsessed cat named Ellie.
Towards the end of my sophomore year in high school, we were getting ready to move and I was not doing so well in Biology. My teacher also went to my church, which meant he talked to my parents…..often. After some time he asked if he could sponsor me on a youth retreat called Walk to Emmaus. I said “sure” and I went on this weekend retreat.
On the last night of the retreat they give you this box of letters. These letters had been collected beforehand by my sponsor and family. The letters were from my family telling me they hoped my relationship with God would grow over the weekend. Some letters were from people I hadn’t talked to in years, just offering a prayer for me. Other letters were from people at church just hoping for a great weekend.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of love at that moment. A feeling that I was truly valued. All because an adult at church (no longer in my mind just a biology teacher) realized I was struggling with the upcoming move, and took the time to care for me.
We moved that summer to a new town (Hopkinsville, KY), and I didn’t know anyone. We had joined a church after visiting a few times, and school had started the week after moving to the town. I was nervous and trying to make new friends.
A few weeks into school and I was being a little more obnoxious or energetic than usual in my math class one day. The teacher had got frustrated with me, and like all humans made a mistake in how they addressed the situation. She was a little rude in correcting me. I found out later that a girl from church, named Megan, had spoken to the teacher later and stuck up for me. She told the teacher that she shouldn’t treat students like that. Megan didn’t know me very well at that point, but she knew what was right and wrong and she stuck up for me.
I remember when I heard about Megan sticking up for me, I felt very connected to my church. That someone in my church had felt like I was worth something. That someone in my church had decided that I deserved to be treated with respect.
As a teenage boy who often told too many jokes, goofed off too much, and had been picked on for most of middle school, this was not a feeling that happened often. Yet each time I had that feeling it was because someone from church was taking their time to care for me. Those are the times I heard God’s voice the loudest saying “I love you, and I care for you.”
We need youth ministries that invest in teenagers. We need youth ministries who see it as their job to say “God loves you for who you are”, louder than the culture can say “Be who we want you to be.”
Without being connect to church I would have never felt the love of God. That is why I want to do youth ministry. To share the love of God that was shared with me.
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 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 16 years, with the last seven at GBC. In addition to student ministry, Tim also leads the church’s contemporary worship music. Follow him on Twitter @timschindler.
When Andrew was looking for bloggers to write about youth ministry, it is reasonable to start out with a question like this… but that doesn’t mean that the question is easy to answer. In fact, I’ve been asked questions like this before, and usually I spout something about wanting to impact this next generation or how God used youth ministry to transform my own life.
But let’s face it, most people prefer a brief, easy-to-swallow answer. And so my typical reply becomes a pretty simple off-the-cuff response to folks who probably don’t really want to take the time to sit down, face-to-face, knee-to-knee, and actually hear a more nuanced version of that story.
You see, what I usually don’t say is this: I want to do youth ministry because I am broken.
I am a mess. Just like the rest of humanity, I often give in to selfishness. I hurt people I care about. I am quick to judgment and slow to forgiveness. I’m undisciplined. I do not want to trust God when it seems easier to go another way. I tend toward playing it safe. I am good at ignoring the cycle of exploitation and violence in which I find myself entangled as an American. Much of the time I am not living the life God created me to live.
The problem is there is a prevalent, subtle yet false assumption that we do youth ministry because we have it all together, and now it is our job to go and “fix” the teenagers in our communities.
Instead, when Jesus decides to bring restoration to all the earth, he chooses to rely on broken and messed up people to do it, aka the Church. Why wouldn’t he just create an army of super-Christians to go around fixing the mess… people who would always get it right and know how to get the best outcome in the most efficient manner?
But God uses us—splintered, misshapen, fractured, cracked, distorted, crushed. In all the ways we can describe it, broken.
In fact, the Lord chooses to create us in such a way that we find our own healing in the midst of the healing of others… our salvation is interconnected. On the wall of New Jerusalem, a community of people recovering from addictions in Philadelphia, hangs a sign that reads, “We cannot fully recover until we help the society that made us sick recover.” That’s why I care about the lost, the orphan, the hungry, the planet—that’s why I do youth ministry—because I need restoration for the brokenness in my own soul, and I find it as I help students and their families find healing.
As I try to lead young people to love God, I find myself loving God more. For example, in the very moments that I am teaching that grace is actually harder than law-keeping (because it requires us to actually have to consistently listen for God’s leadership), I find my own heart tuning in to the voice of God again. By taking the time to listen to and help try to point a teenager toward forgiveness, it builds within me compassion and a desire to show mercy. In moments of serving alongside students on a mission project, I notice that I open up to connecting with those I am serving. When I brag to a parent about how amazing their child is, I grow in thankfulness for the people in my life.
As I seek to minister out of a place of need, I hope what I am doing is setting an example to our students that they will find the wholeness God intended for them as they lay down their lives and take on the ministry of serving others in the name of Jesus.
And here’s what I believe will happen: youth ministry will become redefined, not as ministry to students with nice little programs that a church provides for its teenagers, but as the ministry of students for the sake of their world.