The Secret Essential to Longevity in Youth Ministry


(Photo Cred: Food Network)

I have been doing part- or full-time student ministry since January, 1999. That’s more than fifteen years of youth group games and summer conferences and weekly lesson prep and everything else that comes with the territory. It’s a hard gig, but I’m not complaining. It’s been a joy.

There are more and more guys and gals sticking with student ministry well into their 30s and 40s. The day of it being perceived as a stepping stone are over. I still get the occasional, “When are you going to be a real pastor?” question, but rarely. People get it. Youth ministry is important stuff.

Lately, I’ve thought a lot about how I’ve made it this far, and there is a key ingredient that I think is standard for anyone who hopes to do any kind of ministry a long time — I know I could not have done youth ministry this long without it. The key ingredient (for me, at least) is named Kari Benton. Your key ingredient may have a different name, but it’s the same ingredient, basically — a faithful, selfless spouse.

10372794_10152318412449145_6804602929890391603_nFor 12 of the 15 years I’ve been doing ministry, Kari has been my wife. While I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, chasing down students and parents and doing what I can to point them toward Jesus, she has been a supportive, understanding, unselfish partner. Though she has her own set of hats that she has worn over the years — nursing student, ministry volunteer, mom and much, much more — she has remained an encourager and champion through it all.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some lively conversations over the years about balance and priorities and what is most important. But I know now that those conversations happened after months of sacrifice during which she put her head down and made things happen, hoping I’d see my own flaws and failures for myself. I rarely did. Even the times when she has confronted me with the truth were not whiney moments of selfishness, but needed correctives in the life of our family.

My wife was up at some point before I was this morning, reading her Bible and exercising. She spent the whole day doing masters level course work because she wants to be able to help the least of these, and God has gifted her with great compassion, a brilliant mind, and skills as a nurse that will be helpful to many people for decades to come. She packed the kids lunch today, she volunteers at the school when they need it, she is a girl’s small group leader and sings on the worship team at our church and serves in other ways, too. She periodically volunteers at a clinic that treats the underserved segment of our town’s demographic. She laughs with our kids and reads with our kids and prays over our kids and cooks dinner for our kids. She’s no slouch in that category, by the way.

Yes, she gets tired. Yes, she gets frustrated. She’s a person, not a machine (though sometimes that’s hard to discern).

I’ve been through a very busy season in ministry, logging serious hours over the summer. Our family was in different zip codes more often than we weren’t. Our church is growing, our student ministry is growing, and we’re adding programs and events for this school year. Not a single time has my wife complained. Not once. Instead, she does what she has to do to get done what has to get done. She pats me on the back when appropriate and also doesn’t hesitate to kick me in the rear if needed.

I have been blessed this past decade in a half with some great ministry friends, helpful mentors, and loving church families. The ride hasn’t always been smooth, but I’ve benefitted from many helpful people in my life. They’ve helped me last.

But no one has been as helpful — as supportive, encouraging, selfless, and sacrificial — as my wife. Because of my ministry her undergraduate degree took six years and we’ve moved three times in our twelve years of marriage.

So goes the world of the ministry wife.

It is an unglamorous, behind-the-scenes stardom that few recognize, but I wanted to   shine some light on it, and deservedly so. There is no minister on earth who has been doing it for years that has been doing it on their own. Every day, even the hardest ones, they come home to someone who helps lick their wounds and keep them upright. They rip up hastily-written resignation letters and pray quietly while their exhausted spouse sleeps. They cry over tragedies and disappointments, using their shirt to soak up the tears if necessary. They put their own needs second (sometimes third or fourth or fifth), get very little credit, but keep on grinding because they love Jesus, His church, and their spouse.

I’m not speaking as an objective observer, I’m speaking as someone with fifteen years experience. So to all your spouses out there doing what it takes, we see you. We appreciate you. We love you.

We couldn’t do it without you.