Update: This post was nominated for YouthMin.Org’s “Best Youth Ministry Blog Post of 2012” contest. I made it all the way to the top 34, and was in 17th place, too short to make it to the Sweet Sixteen! I am blessed to have been nominated, and hope that you have been blessed by this post.
I love youth ministry. I just love it. I blog about it, tweet about, study it, think about it, pray about it, etc. I just love it.
I’m currently working in a residential ministry where I work with older teenage girls who are trying to learn practical skills to transition into the adult world. It’s a challenge in many ways, but residential ministry has provided some of the most raw ministry I have ever experienced–not many of my youth minister friends can recount moments where they’ve had runaways, experienced a teenager attempting suicide, physically dangerous altercations, or teens in their face screaming obscenities…all while living in the same house as them. I’m daily struggling to model grace to people who daily fail me. Yet I really can’t picture myself not working with teenagers.
I’ve heard many times (especially from teens who are in state care) “Why do you work with teenagers?” I usually brush it off and say “I like it” or “I don’t know” or the occasional “I can take the abuse.” But this week I really thought about it.
I was called to youth ministry at the age of 17, while volunteering in the youth ministry in my church. It was others’ conviction in my church that even made me aware of this calling. I fought it, but came to the conclusion that it was God’s will. I didn’t understand it, but ever since I’ve been devoted and have realized that I have natural and spiritual giftings that have placed me in this ministry.
But WHY do I like it? WHY do I do ministry? It’s not just because I want to give the Gospel–I could be an evangelist, a writer, or even a worker at Walmart. It’s not that.
It’s not because I like working with teenagers, either. I mean, I love them, don’t get me wrong. But this is a hard ministry–teenagers can be manipulative, and there are always hard moments when one has failed you. Emotionally, this is a taxing ministry. There are days when all I can do is pop in the second VHS of Titanic and cry the night away because of something that has happened.
It’s also not because I think the church is a great place to work either. I believe in the church, I am devoted to the Church as a whole and to the church community. But church can be a messy place to work.
So, I’m sure you’re thinking by now “This girl is not called. She isn’t in it for the Gospel, because teenagers are rewarding, or because she believes in the church.” I didn’t say that exactly. I am in it for all those things, but they aren’t the reason I like working with teenagers. At the end of the day those reasons aren’t the reasons that keep me going. Maybe I’m wrong for that.
When I was a teenager, I had a rough life. I had absent parents in an urban community where I was easiy influenced and made bad decisions. I had to make it through myself–figure out how to cook, clean, drive, pay for college, etc. More than that, I had to learn what it looks like to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I had very few positive influences in my life, and really relied on God alone to get me through a lot of situations and had to find my own resources when it came to practical needs. What I love about youth ministry is making a difference in lives that need the difference; being that consistent mentor and provider for someone. I love it when I can teach a teenager a new skill, whether it’s a new meal to prepare, a fun word in Spanish, or a concept in the Bible. I love being a sounding board for problems and being a constant source of confidentiality. I love providing teenagers with resources so that they can better their lives.
This is why I love working with teenagers–to give them someone that I didn’t have. This is also why it’s crucial for me to act with integrity and consistency.
We all have something special that we bring to the youth ministry table, something unique that helps us connect to our students. I challenge you to think about why you love working with teenagers. Let’s be honest, there are reasons deeper than “spreading the gospel” or “loving the church.” Because there are easier ways to do that than working with teenagers. And it’s not “loving teenagers” that is the sole reason why we do ministry; because teenagers break our hearts no matter if you work in a church, a school, or as a parent. Why is it? I would love to hear your reasons :)