I don’t hate student ministry. I love it. I love to be a part of the process as a student changes from a kid to an adult right before my eyes. I love officiating wedding ceremonies of kids I knew when they were in high school. I’ve had interns who used to be in a youth group I worked in. My list of favorite things about student ministry is long. There are a lot of things about what I do that I feast on.
The following are not on that list.
Watching Families Break Apart
I don’t hate broken families, of course. I love families, even (especially?) the broken ones. I just hate that there are broken families. Often it’s like watching a car accident in slow motion. The impact is coming, not everyone sees it yet, and it’s going to hurt. In fifteen years I’ve walked through painful family stuff with lots of folks. As exhausting as it is for me, I know it’s life-altering for them. So you walk through it. But I hate that it’s a thing. And far too often, it just comes with the territory of working with teenagers.
There have been moments — though mercifully, not that many — where we got “the call.” A sudden death occurs and it impacts one of our students. By “impacts” I mean changes their life forever in a foundation rattling sort of way. I’ve attended and even performed the funerals. They are heart breaking. I’ve done the counseling sessions in the aftermath. Do I have Kleenex? Do I have enough Kleenex?
Again, you love the people. You do the heavy lifting of walking through that stuff with people. But you hate that you have to. There haven’t been that many in my decade and a half of student ministry experience, but even though they have been few those experiences are what have stuck with me the most.
If you do student ministry, you know exactly what I’m talking about. A kid is a part of everything. They don’t just attend, they participate. They don’t just commit, they sacrifice. They dream about God’s plan for their future. They are really being discipled. It’s awesome. You brag about them to other student pastors and give their parents high fives in the hall.
Then they disappear.
Maybe it’s a job or a sport or a boy or a girl. Maybe it’s graduation or guilt. I’ve stared in the face of students who our team invested thousands of hours into only to see them not walking with Jesus at all. I know, I know–you never know when they might come back to the Lord. We just plant and water the seeds. I know that’s true. But that doesn’t help you feel better every time.
Sometimes it just hurts that it’s true.
There are other things I don’t really dig — lock-ins come to mind — but I don’t know if there are three things I hate more about what I do than those. So why do I do it? People are going to die. Families are going to divide. The most involved student sometimes abandons their faith. I think the reason I continue is simple:
Between every teenager enduring a tragic story and the hope of Jesus — a distance that seems almost insurmountable to them in the thick of it — there often stands a student minister. I don’t mean to sound self-important, but the reality is that for every sad story of a kid that “didn’t make it” there would be exponentially more if you didn’t do what you do, youth minister. The grief would be too strong. The struggle would be too hard. They wouldn’t have anyone challenge their apathy. For some kids, we’re it — we’re the one that pulls them forward. We’re the late-night text, the after school ice cream, the “Hey, let’s go grab a burger.” It’s what we do. 80% of the job is showing up consistently. For them. They are why we do it.
So we stand up and do the eulogy and we trudge through the issues and we smile and hug the kids we haven’t seen in years. We don’t beat them over their heads with the commitments they made (and have since broken) when they were fifteen. We do what we’ve always done: point them toward Jesus. He’s why we do it.
I know it can sometimes be hard to get up in the morning (or in the middle of the night) to do what it is you do. But keep doing it, youth ministers.
The world is better because you have.