More Than Kid Stuff

Jed loved working with teenagers. And he was great at it.

He’d shoot baskets all afternoon with the guys, followed by great conversations about life, girls, and faith. He could hang out for hours at a high school football game and never grow tired of it. Wherever students were is where he wanted to be.

The perfect candidate for youth ministry, right?

Well maybe…

This was Jed’s first youth ministry job, his first full-time job of any kind, and he was more than a little surprised and even a little resentful when his job began to feel like…work.  We had an inkling that Jed might not stay in his position very long when he said, “This is starting to feel like work. And when it becomes work, it stops being ministry.”

(His comment reminded me a little bit of the groom who assumed that if he ever had to work at his marriage it wasn’t real love).

For lots of people, getting into youth ministry feels like falling in love.  But long-term youth pastors will tell you that this call can also feel, a good bit of the time, like labor pains!

Jed, like most new youth pastors, loved the relational stuff—as long as the students came to him. But when the pastor asked him to be accountable for reaching students who didn’t show up, or for a 12-month calendar, or for a game plan for training volunteers, Jed simply didn’t see those priorities as “real” ministry.  Sadly, when he left, he left dozens of broken-hearted, confused teenagers in his wake.
Years ago, when good friend Jeff Dunn-Rankin was considering a move from being a volunteer to becoming a paid youth director at his church, I asked him a hard question:

“Which of the following statements describes you better:

  1. I want to spend lots of time with teenagers, or
  2. I want to manage a ministry that reaches more teenagers than I could reach myself?”

“If you choose No. 1,” I said, “you’ll be happier staying in your role as uber-volunteer. If you choose No. 2, you’re ready to consider the profession of youth ministry.”  It was another way of asking, “Are you willing to give up some of time you spend doing youth ministry in order to lead a youth ministry?”

It’s the same question every person considering a call to youth ministry must ask.  Answer that question before you get hired, and the teenagers and families you work with will be the better for it.

(First published in The INDISPENSABLE YOUTH PASTOR Column of Group Magazine, 2011, SUBMITTED 4/11/11)