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 an Answer that Reframed My Youth Ministry
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.
If you are a youth worker, what is one thing—one realization or one big truth—you hope your teenagers walk away with at the end of their time in student ministry?
Several years ago, on one of the youth summer mission trips I led, we were sitting in a park wrapping up our final day in Boston, Massachusetts. As we were debriefing the trip and reflecting on all that we had experienced that week together, one of the leaders offered up a simple question, “What did you learn?” (By the way, it’s a great question that I hope we’re all asking after we serve.) Just about all of us said something we learned about homelessness or hunger or the complexities of the city of Boston or the people we met there. But I specifically remember Brandon, one of our teenagers at the time, simply stating, “I learned that I am selfish.” Brandon wasn’t necessarily the super spiritual kid in the group or anything, but after spending a week looking other people in the eyes and hearing their stories and trying to make a difference for them, he had one of those moments of clarity where he became aware of a much bigger world than the one he had been living in.
This is why I believe it is super important for the teenagers in my student ministry to serve others. It assaults our self-centeredness. When we put ourselves in a position of really wanting to help people in meaningful ways, that simple act threatens our typical selfishness. Our eyes become open to really see other people, to feel more of what they feel, to understand more of their struggle. We no longer just see “those people.” We become connected.
And serving then goes on to wage war, attacking how much of our lives we spend focused only on ourselves, our desires, our wants, our concerns, what makes me happy. Students can’t visit a sick person at their bedside and then look at their own lives and rightfully think about that pesky hangnail. When students help make sure other kids simply have the school supplies they need for their first day of school, it suddenly becomes much less important if they have the exact color of sharpie they wanted to go along with their 13 other colors. It creates a new perspective that reveals just how much time and attention we really spend focusing on me, me, me.
Not only do they become more aware of others, not only do they notice their own propensity for self-centeredness, but their eyes are also opened to all the ways we’ve all contributed to the problem. I am culpable in the hurt of others. My selfishness has actually helped create my neighbor’s need. The more I scratch away at the surface of my own reality, the more problematic it becomes. In the production of all the stuff we have, constantly trying to find ways to get cheaper and cheaper things, companies hide unfair wages and dangerous working conditions overseas in underdeveloped countries among already vulnerable populations, pollution from the factories that make our stuff contaminates waterways and land, showing back up in sickness and disease, and energy and mineral resources are used up with little regard for the people most affected now or the generations yet to come. It’s unsustainable and many people are hurt by it… all so we can have cheap stuff. There are so many of these privileges we receive that, if we were to look a little deeper, we would discover actually come at the expense of others, in areas like healthcare, education, nutrition, civil services, and others. But so as long as no one really connects all the dots for us, we seem to care very little about the consequences.
This is not to make them feel guilty about their stuff or their spending habits or even their time not spent at church… this is a deep realization that the center of my life cannot be me, and that there are real problems that result from our selfishness. Hear the words from Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
I have thought for many years about that simple response, “I learned I am selfish,” because it has significantly reframed youth ministry for me. If I can help young people (who most of us would admit are often just about the most me-centered humans on the planet) to somehow become aware enough to realize that they are in fact NOT the center of the known universe, then we are half way there. It’s honestly not a criticism of teenagers… they are in the process of forming their identity and their understanding of who they are. It’s completely natural. However, if as they work through it, they get stuck in their own little world, they will become self-centered adults. And what we don’t need are more selfish adults.
Let me say it this way: our youth need to learn, not only that they personally need a savior, but that the world needs a savior. On the wall of a recovery center in Philadelphia is a sign that reads, “We cannot fully recover until we help the society that made us sick recover.”
Yes, I truly hope that all of my students graduate my youth ministry with an awareness of God’s transforming and sacrificial love for them and for all people… but I also emphasize serving others with the specific goal of helping my youth figure out that they are selfish and that it’s a problem.