Foundations for Youth Ministry: Perseverance
Albert Einstein is quoted often, saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results” He may have been a physicist but it seems that he knew a bit about youth ministry too. Youth Ministry is cyclical and many elements remain the same: our core truths and teachings, the liturgical calendar and the repetition of the cycles of middle and high school and then graduations. We are often doing the same things over and over (though in varying and extremely creative ways). Case in point: I’m so sick of pizza, but each generation of young people seem to gravitate towards it. It blows my mind!
Here is a modification: “Youth Ministry: doing the same things over and over again, expecting wildly different results.” Each person ministered to, whether part of a large or small youth group, over time will own their faith in sometimes extreme variations. I’m always surprised by the energy that explodes from empowered young people, and I love (absolutely LOVE) seeing their ideas become reality.
But the hard part of that same principle is the “doing the same things over and over.” There is a repetition to ministry, and to relationships in general. How many times do you ask “How are you doing this week?” “What’s up?” “How’s the family” “What are your plans for the holidays?” “Who are you going to be?” “How can I help you make your dreams reality?” “Where is my phone?” “Seriously! Who took my phone? …and my backpack …with my laptop?!”
Monotony and the ordinary challenges of this ministry (the almost parental worry; safety during events; the many awkward conversations; walking with the teen who has thrown off their faith), means that there is a serious burn out risk in the first year to 18 months of ministry. Notice earlier that I made a correlation between insanity and youth ministry. You don’t necessarily have to be insane to jump in, but over time, your heart has to be radically oriented towards care and love of those who so desperately need it. You will need to constantly refresh your God orientation. Otherwise, you’ll burn out.
How does one do youth ministry day after day, year after year, and dare I say decade after decade? The easy answer is “Just do it.” We all have to. Young people are everywhere and they need adult guidance. That helps me, but a more theological response is that ministry to the young is a sacred responsibility given to all of us. No one can say, “I’m not made for this,” or “I’m too old.” God has made us the stewards of not only the earth, but of the cultivation of future generations.
Deuteronomy Ch. 6: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
If the love of God is on your heart, share it continually and meticulously with those who are young. The potential is great, and the results of your perseverance will change lives. Don’t look at the short-term challenges (just face them). The real rewards come at the back end.
(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)