Many of us never get a glimpse into how students were affected by their time in our ministries. The emergence of social networking technology is allowing us to keep in touch with former students in an unprecedented way, so hopefully glimpses will be much more frequent in the future. But when we do get those glimpses, it’s incredibly encouraging.
Over the past few weeks, I have had a few glimpses of why what we do-and more importantly, who we are-as youth workers, is important. Allow me to share four brief glimpses with you that encouraged me, and may encourage you as well. Two of them involved one of my long-time volunteers, Bob, and two came to me directly.
Several members of our leadership team were standing in the hallway after youth group one Wednesday night, when a 30+ year-old man with some mental challenges, named Bryan, dropped into our circle. After several minutes, in the midst of some seemingly meaningless statements, he turned a corner and started taking us down memory lane. He started describing dcTalk and Michael W. Smith concerts in great detail.
Pointing to Bob, Bryan said, “And I remember this guy. I remember going to Six Flags together.” After a few minutes, he left.
Bob said, “I totally forgot about that! But when he started talking, it all come back to me. I used to spend the entire day walking around Six Flags with him.” Bob didn’t think he was doing anything, but he was creating memories that this young man has not forgotten to this day-even in the midst of his mental illness.
The room was packed. It was noisy. Hundreds of small children were screaming and running around. It was like a room full of Kevins from Home Alone. Parents were sitting at tables snacking on Tylenol. It was our annual Fall Fun Fest!
As I was sitting there dipping my Tylenol in some cheese dip, Bob came over to me to introduce a woman in her mid- to late-twenties named Adrian. As Adrian shared, I learned that she had been a member of our youth ministry back in the day before I arrived. She kept talking about our winter retreat and how much that annual event meant to her.
Apparently after leaving youth group, she went through some tough times, but she said she kept revisiting those experiences at the winter retreat knowing that God had great plans for her life. God used those memories to inspire her to keep moving forward and get through. Now she and her husband are working with the youth at their church.
INBOX: Mike sent you a message on Facebook.
Just wanted to drop you a note of appreciation. Your influence on my girls’ lives is still evident. It would be easy to say your impact on them was simply because of their age at that time (especially Lauren), but I know it was more than that. You had a heart for them and the other kids at our church. It was your heart that made a lasting impression, and this is one grateful dad. Thank you!
Mark was just a young boy when his older brother James was killed in a tragic car accident. I was still a teenager myself, so, I guess technically, this was not youth ministry. Nevertheless, his comments during a chat online a few weeks ago, reminded me of what youth ministry is all about-why we do what we do!
M: You remember that Red Wings’ game we went to? (Note: The Red Wings were a minor league baseball team.)
M: I swear every time I watch baseball and see a foul ball, I think of you. It’s weird.
K: I still owe you one of the two balls I caught. I lied and said I would give you the second one, never imagining I would catch two.
M: I mean, you were athletic back then, but getting two is ridiculous. (Note: True fact! I caught 2 foul balls in one game!)
M: Was my bro around then?
K: I don’t think so. I think it was just after he died because I remember trying to be a bit of a big bro to you.
M: I don’t remember him being around. I think that was a big bro event and my dad wanted me to be with you. (Note: Mark’s dad was a youth worker and understood the importance of relationships.)
K: Remember when I used to come to your house after James died to play basketball with you for hours?
M: Yup. You and Matt.
M: I appreciate all you did for me back then, by the way. I never really got to thank you guys. We left before I really understood what that meant.
K: You were so young, there was no need. We weren’t doing it for the thanks. We were doing it because we cared. Love ya, buddy!
The Unseen Glimpses
You might never know-in fact, you probably won’t-the impact you are having on students. Being a leader on a mission trip, chaperoning a retreat or event, leading a small group, simply being at youth group each week, giving kids high fives and hugs, running sound, controlling lights, selling pizza, speaking encouraging words, praying with students, sending cards, dropping texts, making phone calls . . . it’s all important and it’s all worth it!
I know you don’t do it for the praise and the glory (you don’t get much of either in youth ministry)! You do it because you love Jesus. You do it because you love students. You do it because you want to help students love Jesus. Thank you for being a youth worker!
P.S. I just mailed Mark one of the balls I caught.