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 Stories that keep me coming back
Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys ping pong and skittles, sends texts with emojis, and loves baseball. He is currently serving as Youth Minister at Middletown Christian Church in Louisville, KY.
Youth Ministry is the best job on the planet. Can I get an “amen!”?
But, Youth Ministry is also a very difficult job with very real struggles.
While trying to maintain balance, I often find myself wondering how I got to this place. Who in the world thought it was a good idea for me to be in charge of the discipleship and spiritual well-being of all these teenagers? (Disclaimer: I know I’m not really “in charge” of that, but when times are hard, that’s often how it feels.)
Without question, however, the perks of youth ministry far outweigh the difficulties. One of those perks is the moment when a youth confirms to you all of this is worth it. Those kind of stories are what keeps me coming back.
One story that comes to mind happened last summer when I had the opportunity to attend a high school baseball game in which one of our youth was playing. This particular youth is very good at baseball, one of the best on his team, and he played a great game. I was proud of him and told him so. He thanked me for coming, and all was well. But there’s another piece to this story that makes it a truly special moment for me. It just so happened that we also had another youth playing on the opposing team. I didn’t know it before I got there, and he didn’t know I was coming. The first time this youth came up to bat, he saw me through the fence and smiled (then immediately wiped the smile away and pretended to be cool as high school guys are so skilled at doing). This youth is a fine player (after all, he’s on his high school team), but he’s not the best and his future is most assuredly in another field. This particular game wasn’t his best performance, to say the least, and it showed on his face and in his body language. After the game, I went over to him, as well, and we talked while we waited on his dad to get there. I told him I was proud of him and he asked, “For what? I played terrible.” Without even thinking, I replied, “Because I love you, man.” He smiled again and gave me a very (and I mean VERY) quick “Bro Hug.” We waited for his dad for the next couple minutes in silence because nothing more needed to be said.
Another story happened a couple years ago. The youth group at my former church chose a semester long project they wanted to work on. The plan was to set aside a Wednesday night or two each month to work on the project, and they could pick anything in the world they wanted to. After rigorous brainstorming, voting, and several narrowings of the list, they settled on “Teenage Depression, Self-Injury, and Thoughts of Suicide.” [Facepalm] Very important topic to be sure, but they literally could have chosen “Shelter Puppies…” So, anyway, we have a topic, we’re taking it seriously, and we’re moving right along towards our goal. It’s a very heavy topic for youth group, but if you can’t talk about it openly and safely there, then where can you talk about it? One night, after working on the project for a while, one of the girls asks me to stay after. I say of course, arrange for another adult to wait in the hallway, and then she and I sit down to talk. The very first thing she does is cry. Now, I’m no stranger to youth tears, though I generally see them most often in the guys after I destroy one of them up in dodgeball, but that’s a different story. I’m sitting across from her, I’m quiet, and I’m waiting. After a minute or so, she pulls up her sleeves. Both arms, from mid-forearm to as high as her sleeves would go above the elbow, are covered in scars from cutting. It’s not the first time I’ve seen marks like this, and it won’t be the last—statistics would indicate a shockingly high number of teenagers deal with self-injury in some form. With tears in her eyes, she says, “Thank you for being the first person to talk about this that made me feel like a normal person.” And now I’m also crying.
These are just two of the many stories that keep me coming back to a difficult job, but a job that I love. Stories like these remind me why youth ministry matters. Stories like these remind me why the safety of Sanctuary—be that in a church or elsewhere—matters. Stories like these remind me why our God has chosen a supremely flawed person like myself to hang out with some supremely amazing youth.
These are the stories that keep me coming back.