Our theme for 2018 is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with…..
The Life of the Seminary Student/Youth Minister
Jonathan Balmer is an M.Div candidate at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. He serves as Minister of Youth at 7th and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Before seminary, he worked as a high school teacher in Frankfort, Kentucky, and as an ESL teacher at an all-boys school in South Korea. His interests include retro-style video games, travel, 20th-century Catholic literary writers, American religious history, listening to podcasts, and educating Texans about the superiority of Memphis-style and pork (rather than brisket-based) barbecue.
1 John 1:1-3 (CEB)
“We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
It did not take long for me to figure out that my millennial aversion to voice mail— preferring e-mail, text, or almost anything else— could not be sustained. Ten o’clock A.M. seems like a normal time to call someone at their office. Except, I’m rarely in the office then. I’m in class.
I’m a youth minister and a full-time seminary student.
My church is gracious and flexible. My position is part time and, aside from obligations to attend staff meeting and, of course, Wednesday and Sunday worship and meetings, when and where I do my ministry work and planning may vary wildly. For youth ministers or youth volunteers, from full time to every-once-in-a-while, we’re all doing “youth ministry and…”
And a list of things. It can be hectic. A flashing red voice mail light on my desk phone became a symbol of that for me. I sure hope whoever that was also send one of those e-mails I responded to—because I don’t remember the last time I was able to check into my office.
At the same time, there are people who know just what it’s like to really care about youth ministry but also have many other responsibilities, especially school. Many of those folks, in fact, are your students.
Here’s how realizing my students were doing youth ministry AND full-time school, outside activities, sports, friends, and other obligations affected how I approached youth ministry. I learned to:
- Be conscientious. Communicate in simple, multiple, and easily available ways which work in your context. You don’t need to juggle 15 social media accounts to get students’ attention. In my situation, I use Constant Contact for a weekly e-mail, and then I simply screenshot that e-mail and send it out to all involved with our Youth Ministry with the Remind app (SMS messaging). Spoken word, E-mail, text messaging, and print are not the cutting edge of social media, but in using them all my students have access to information regarding what we are doing in advance.
- Realize the common ground you have in your situation with students and families—and empathize. We all have more than our fair share of obligations. It’s why it’s even more important to create space for worship and prayer. In this way, don’t frame schedules as a one-upsmanship contests. We don’t merely market ourselves as if each Bible study is one more business vying for attention, or try to prove that we are truly the busiest ones (“liberal arts Olympics,” as chronically “busy” friends called it in college). Instead, I learned to invite simply and avoid nagging if a student can’t make it.
All the while, suggest simple and practical ways families can invite the same conversation that happens in youth ministry lessons at home. Inviting families to participate where they are, rather than merely expressing disappointment when numbers are small at church, helps communicate the things of God aren’t one just extra-curricular event among many.
- Don’t preach what you can’t even attempt to practice. Be honest, without over-sharing, about your own spiritual life. Sometimes it’s hard to make time for prayer. Sharing with students what you do (not what you would ideally do) to give attention and adoration to God and love your neighbor during the week provides one example for them. Sharing this may keep prayer and spiritual disciplines from seeming like far-off spiritual things only super spiritual people do. If this is scary, as it sometimes is for me, we should take that as a sign that we may be preaching spiritual disciplines far loftier than we hope to practice ourselves. Here is where ensuring activities and lessons but prayers are part of your what you do together as a youth ministry may prove a wonderful reminder.
Doing “youth ministry and…” is a lot—whatever your roles. And if you’re a student and a youth worker, like me, we shouldn’t allow it to alienate us from the churches, families, and students with whom we love working and worshipping. Instead, let’s see our dual-roles as an opportunity to come together to set aside sacred space to come to know Jesus more.