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Youth Ministry: Giving Up and Selling Yourself Short

“Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified” (James 3:1-2).

“Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy” (1 Peter 3:15).

While interviewing a possible youth ministry intern at one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the northern Virginia area, I overheard a conversation between a parent and some other parents who were sitting near us on their lunch break. Ironically, the man talking was angry and alarmed that his son was going into youth ministry as a profession. He began to describe the youth ministry profession “as his son’s refusal to grow up and do anything of consequence, of significance, or of meaning with his life.” It was all I could do to not interrupt this man and talk to him about how it was so much more than what he was thinking. I wanted to tell him the truth about the importance and significance of youth ministry, you know, “the other side” of youth ministry. I wanted to convince him that youth ministry is indeed a real and meaningful profession and that there was more to it than just . . . and then I heard the rest . . .

The man went on to say his son described his aspiration to go into youth ministry as “playing video games and hanging out all the time.” What a misconception of youth ministry!  There is so much more to youth ministry than this.  I was disappointed and angry that this young man had described youth ministry to his dad in this way.  Then, I was disappointed in whoever was discipling this young man.  Then, I was disappointed in the young man’s church and I was disappointed in his youth minister. I could not believe what I was hearing.

The parent viewed his son’s desire to do youth ministry as, and I quote “giving up and selling himself short,” and he went on to tell his friends in detail why this is what he thought.  If the young man’s view of youth ministry is just “playing video games and hanging out all the time,” I agree with the father that his son is indeed giving up and selling himself short. I also believe that the young man is not only selling himself short, but he is selling the youth ministry profession short as well. He is selling his church short, he is selling his dad short, and he will sell his youth short too. Most importantly, if hanging out and playing video games is all we do in youth ministry, we are selling God short.

The next week, after interviewing this intern prospect and overhearing this conversation, I got an e-mail of a video of a rapping youth minister on YouTube by a pastor friend of mine with good intentions. On one hand, I thought the video was cute, but then I remembered the Thai restaurant and the look on the prospective intern’s face as we listened in on the conversation going on next to us  I couldn’t laugh at the buffoonish youth minister rapping about youth ministry on YouTube any longer, and I couldn’t go on without saying something to my friend. After all, I was already kicking myself for not talking to the person at the restaurant the week before.

This is what I said to my youth minister friend, “Wow . . . on one hand this is funny, but on the other hand, this is extremely alarming and tragic!” I then told him the story about the person at the Thai restaurant that I just shared with you, and went on to say, “While I appreciate the humor of this video, I also must fight to maintain a positive reputation of the youth ministry profession. Youth ministry is a reputable and respectable profession of great importance. God deserves our best. Our youth deserve our best. Our churches deserve our best. Please help me to spread the word about the importance of youth ministry in making disciples of Jesus. Let’s work together to change the perception and impact of youth work!”

It is this message of the value of quality youth work that fueled my desire in wanting to talk to this parent in the restaurant, and it is what fueled my desire in talking to my pastor friend. We must put a proper face on youth ministry, on discipleship with youth, and youth leadership. Making disciples can be fun, but it is not all fun and games. We are given the great responsibility of a very important job as ministers to youth.  We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to help lead people into His Kingdom.  

This gets at the essence of what Peter is saying in 1 Peter 5: 1-7, from Eugene Peterson’s, The Message:

“I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he’ll see that you’ve done it right and commend you lavishly. And you who are younger must follow your leaders. But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for— God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people. So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.”

May we honor God in how we serve Him no matter what our callings are. May we be concerned for God’s flock with the diligence of The Good Shepherd, not because we have to, or because of what we can get out of it, but because we want to please and honor our God. May we give ourselves up to God and sell ourselves short for the advancement of the gospel by selflessly making disciples of Jesus.

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Youth Ministry: Giving Up and Selling...

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