I recently I went to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Indianapolis to teach, bond, learn from and hang out with some old and new friends. While there, I was reminded how much I LOVE meeting with, encouraging and equipping people whose heart is for God and whose passion is to see teens get connected with him in life-altering ways.
So … all weekend I made a running list of observations of stuff that prompted my soul to move. I boiled it down to my top five reminders for myself and those who do this thing called youth ministry.
1. WE NEED EACH OTHER: Youth ministry is not a solo thing. Yes, it requires God. It also requires one another. It’s so mission critical that we work with others and team with people to sharpen and encourage one another. Life is hard. Youth ministry is hard. We all need soul mates in the journey. To that end, national and local gatherings like this one are mission critical and so worth the time and effort. Some of my greatest ministry lessons and life-long friendships have been birthed out of youth worker training events like this. However we do it, we must continue to gather.
2. PRAY A LOT: I made a commitment this weekend. I’m never teaching another sermon to high school students without telling them they are loved, reminding them they were created by God to reflect God’s image and then praying to invite the Holy Spirit to move among us. I KNOW we need God. I simply cannot do this thing without God. None of us can. I will remind my students in prayer every week with this.
3. WE CAN’T LEAD STUDENTS TO DEPTHS WE HAVE NOT GONE: Caring for my soul and taking care of my own connection with God is not a luxury for those whose life moves at a slow pace. It is a mandatory requirement for all of us who seek to lead students to connection with God. If I want my students to experience intimacy with Jesus, then I have to go out of my way to ensure that I too experience God in incredible and life-altering ways. This won’t happen by osmosis. It requires effort and intentionality. Daily. Hourly. Constantly.
4. OUR DOING MUST FLOW FROM OUR BEING. Order matters. A lot. My ministry must flow out of my identity with Christ; if it does not, then my ministry will become my identity. I will find myself the quintessential example of Matthew 7: those who appear godly on the outside, but find themselves doing that which was disconnected from God and held no value beyond religious pretending. I so don’t want that. I never want to turn my youth ministry into an idol. I love God. Then I serve students. NOT the reverse.
5. THE END IS NOT NEAR: There is a dualism in this for me: First, there has been some talk from time to time that the sky is falling on youth ministry. Perhaps this is true if you’re talking about methods and practices. I think those change all the time. But if you’re talking about the desperate need in our culture for people who love God to help those in their adolescence to connect with God … well, then that is still very much alive and well. The end is not near. Second, it is also all too clear that youth ministry is not a short-term deal either. Life-change that lasts is change that happens like a tortoise. Slow and steady. The end is not near. So buckle up people, we’re going for a long, slow, life-altering ride that is guaranteed to make you weary and remind you of #1-4 above.