I’m at youth camp this week at the wonderfully well-run Camp Copass. Eating camp food with campers doing youth camp stuff. This has been a regular part of my life and ministry for over 20 years now. At some point, shouldn’t I outgrow some of this? The noise? The chaos? The teenagers?
I still enjoy being actively involved in student ministry. Make no mistake, I’d rather jab a white-hot metal rod through my eye than ever attend, plan, host, or even be invited to another lock-in. There are plenty of student ministry events that I’ve outgrown, but not the students themselves. I don’t think that will ever happen. I hope it never does.
I’ve been a pastor longer than I was a student minister; so why am I still so involved? Why don’t I just leave it to the indentured servant…oops…I mean student minister.
1. I Have to Be Involved
I don’t mean “I have to be involved” in an obsessive, unquenchable thirst for it. I literally mean it is a requirement for me to be involved in student ministry.
I know. I know. That doesn’t sound very spiritual or joyful, but it’s true. Serving in a rural church means serving a rural church. All of it. Every age group. There have been several occasions in the life of our church (like right now) in which we’ve been without a associate pastor to youth (the position formerly known as “youth minister” or, to less engaged members, “that other guy”). That means someone has to step in, pick up the slack, and keep the ministry moving forward. That would be me.
I’m still involved in student ministry because God has placed in a context that demands my presence in that area of ministry. That may not sound like a very spiritual reason, but does it have to be. I’m involved because it’s where God has put me. Pretty simple.
2. I Want to Be Involved
Ah, there it is! The “I love these kiddos!” stuff. It’s true. I do love the students God has given me the chance to build relationships with and invest in. They’re kids, and they do dumb, annoying things. But they’re also kids who(for the most part) are trying to figure out who they are and who God is.
It’s a joy to get to be involved when anyone, regardless of demographics, discovers either of those transformative truths.
When I’m not filling in as interim “other guy”, I make it a point to drop in and play ping-pong with them on Wednesday nights. It’s important that I ask them about school and their families as they loiter on the stairwells. It matters to them and to me.
The more adults that invest in a teenager by building meaningful connections with them, the more likely that teenager is to continue their faith journey into adulthood. Every conversation carries with it the potential that in that moment the lightbulb of deepening faith could go off for that kid. It all matters, and I want to be a part of those moments.
I want to do what I can to give teenagers as many opportunities as possible to move beyond being a part of a youth group. I want them grow into ambassadors of the Kingdom. If destroying them in dodgeball is part of that, then may the Lord’s will be done.
3. Others Need Me to Be Involved
No. No one’s going to die if I’m not engaged in the cat-herding that youth ministry can often turn in to. But there just might be people who experience a deeper more joyous existence because of it.
I know. That last sentence sound REALLY egotistical. Bare with me.
I’m referring not to the students, but to the adults who take the chance, dive in, and find their place amidst the ruckus. They find their gifting. They find their home. They find their battlefield. They find the joy of knowing, to some degree, where they fit in building God’s Kingdom.
What does that have to do with me? Aren’t I taking credit for their service?
No. I am however embracing the influence a pastor can have among church members by faithfully serving and encouraging others to do the same. We have a fantastic team of adults who love the students at Slidell’s First Baptist Church well. I’ve had the privilege of leading them, working alongside them, encouraging them, and, more and more, handing the ministry off to them with absolutely no worries about their ability to lead with excellence.
People need to see their pastors serve. They need to see that we’re here to do whatever it takes, to become whatever we must become in order to expand the influence of the gospel in our community. If they don’t see that kind of passion and vision from us, then we have no right to become frustrated when we don’t see it in them.
I’m still involved in student ministry because I love it. It’s part of who I am. It always will be.