Thursday, 17 March 2016

From the Archives 2011: Some thoughts on Youth Ministry, one year after leaving it for good.

It's been almost a year since I stopped doing Youth Ministry. I've been leading or doing some kind of ministry since I was 17 and I have to say I've had a wonderful and restful break from it. On the other hand, it's also an amazing and challenging role to have. I thought maybe I should share some of what I've learnt or have discovered.

Thems were the days..

It's interesting to start with a section on retrospect, but I will anyway. I've had lots of chats with people using the opening line 'why does it always seem that the best days of youth groups have been and gone? (and why can't we recreate this now as leaders?)' I've got a few answers, some which I agree with, and others which I really don't. Here's some of them.
1. Things really WERE better then. Maybe it's because we (not as in me and friends, as in 'we' youth workers who have been part of many different ministries) weren't in charge then. Maybe it's because we had leaders were respected. maybe the activities really were just that good.
2. You could DO more stuff. If you've known me for awhile, you'll know about many stories of canoes, running around main streets at 11pm and playing Bigger or better in the dark. Yes, youth leaders then seemed to take a LOT of risks. I don't think they were particularly clever now I think about it. But it was fun.
3. Because you and you and you were there. My alltime favourite days were running around being crazy with Jem and Ali. I couldn't get those days back, and they never could continue. But they WERE good.

Everyone has an agenda.

It's true. Everyone has some kind of agenda, but often it's a good one (or, a well-intended one). I'd say you need a thick skin to stay in one place for a long time, especially when your agenda clashes with whoever pays you (or doesn't pay you in the case of volunteer roles).

The best agendas to have: I want these kids to know Jesus, I want to show kids what Jesus is like thru those in leadership, I want to encourage a healthy spirirual life, I want to create a safe, fun and loving environment.
The worst agendas to have: Numbers, passing on my own causes and beliefs which are not core to the gospel teaching, meeting potential partners, wanting to save the world, finding a 'cause' within a youth and attempting to rescue them.

Of course what I've said in the 'worst agenda' bit is a bit intense, and I have seen many good things come thru people who may have bad ones. You need to take each young person and each situation as they come. I just warn aganist the danger of becoming a youth ministry leader in order to rescue youth because we think we know what's best.

Jesus Comes First

Sorry, JC didn't come first in this one! However, when we lay down our own agendas and embrace that JC and His message comes first, we give power to everything.

At the end of the day you can have swishy games and fancy devotions, but if your core vision isn't about Jesus, what's the point of ministry?

Think Minority

Looking around churches and other fellowship gathering places, you'll notice that there really are some oddballs around. Now, within ministry (school, church, whatever), you attract the minority as well as the majority. Why though? Jesus drew massive crowds but people who were considered 'the least' were pursued BY Him. When you embrace this idea of serving the minority it all makes a lot of sense.

Always expect the unexpected

I loved chaplaincy and the wonderful excuses it gave me to talk to people, both from the Christian faith, and not, because without my role as a 'Christian' I never would have had the opportunity to be part of their lives. I was so completely overwhemled with the amount of love I was given in return for my role.

"Remember that crazy leader? Whatever happened to them?"

One of the downfalls of being a youthy and then being involved in youth ministry is the amount of people you lose. (I was tempted to say 'to the world', but I don't really agree with that statement.) Several people who have ministered into my life, taught me things and spent serious spiritual time with me have fallen away from the faith. That's really sad. But it's also reality, so we ought to pray for them, and not have those conversations in which is plain old gossip anyway.

It's not about what you do, it's about who you are (and usually who you are in your car)

When I think of my 'glory days' at youth, I can't remember doing anything terribly impressive (or, rather, the things that were impressive weren't meant to happen but did anyway). I do remembering be a mad hugger, pulling friends out during boring sermons (or videos) for prayer sessions and staying up late at night talking about boys, God, life and clothes.

Of my leaders, what do I remember? I'd hold back on saying 'unconditional love', but I do recall how deeply people cared for me and loved me. I knew that no matter how I was treated at school I had a whole heap of people (both youthies and leaders) who thought I was awesome.

As a chaplain and a youth leader I have done many stupid things. Then again, so have many leaders before me. However, who you are in your car is what counts. Peri has this great theory that picking up kids is awesome because they are stuck with you for extended time and they are free to talk to you, and differently than what they would if you were at church. If you have an open heart (and you usally need an open mind too), who you are when you're tired, stressed, annoyed or irrational shouldn't matter too much. We all have bad days.

We actually do care about numbers

I was so completely blessed to work for Port because they were about engaging kids with Jesus/church life and not about getting a whole heap of kids who would show up one week and not the next. It is ally about consistancy. When you're doing leadership by yourself (or with someone else), reality is that you can really only 'pastor' a few of those kids.

The numbers that count, really count, are those numbers that stay part of your youth group, or that you can track. If someone chooses to leave your flock for somewhere else, it's something you need to embrace and accept. I did that as a youthy and look where it got me.

I've left numbers for last as it is really should be the least of your worries.
In a nutshell - it's really about Jesus + relationships.

What else? I'd like to say thank you to so many people, but lots of them aren't FB friends, etc. They all deserve a mention.
To Mt Gambier Baptist Youth, especially to Mark, Jenni, Amanda, Ian and Troy who always had something important and meaningful to share with us. And to Steve who is now with Jesus. Words can not express what a wonderful bloke you were. I miss you.

To those crazy youth kids who made my Friday nights: Ali, Jem, Jess and Alarni. And everyone else too (but you girls were the most important to me).

To Eastside CRC, especial Mike, Nige and Ps Phil and Heather who spoke so much good into my life. To Kara, Gianna and Shaun who plan good surprise parties and also tip canoes. To my little youthies who are all grown up (and married)!

To those people who stood by me with Maximum Impact, especially Tim who put up with so much from me!

To the amazing students and staff at Scott Creek. Being there was always the highlight of my week, and serving you was never work, it was a joy. (Except for getting splinters!)

To those crazy Ichthus Youthies who I love muchly even though I'm far away. I won't list you all because I'm bound to forget someone important - so thanks guys for all the pizza, driving madness, crosswords and mishaps including, but not limited to Cassie falling off the spinning chairm running into the fridge and breaking a lamp. And thank you as always to the amazing Narelle, Stephen, Krystal, Miriam+Andrew and everyone else who loved and believed in me.

To everyone who has given me love, support and advice on chaplaincy and youth ministry - chappies from the Hills, South East and Riverland in 05-07. Peri + Eric - miss you guys muchly. Angela and everyone else I've forgotten and didn't intend to.