Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

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Location: Kansas, United States

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I like youth ministry and I love youth ministers. The reason I'm no longer in youth ministry has nothing to do with disliking the job, or being bad at it. It's more of a complicated mix of a bad experience, timing, the fact that some of my strengths lie in a different direction, geography, and the sad reality that I make a much better living preaching for a small church than I ever did being youth minister for a bigger one. And the toll on my wife was pretty large. Youth ministry is no longer an option for her, although I don't know if she'd tell you preaching is any easier for her.

The two biggest reasons people go into youth ministry is because of a passion for the hearts of young people and because of the sheer fun of it all. Both of those things are great, but only one will sustain YM's for more than a year or two. Once the reality of the ministry sets in, it becomes impossible for some people to do. For example, I went to college and sat in an introduction to ministry class full of nearly 70 young people who had signed up to major in youth ministry. Four years later, after classes and internships had exposed us to ministry reality, I think four of us graduated with YM degrees. Several years after that, only one of the four is still in youth ministry. Not a good testimony to how we treat our YMs.

But for those who remain longer than I did, even with all the hard things, the fun persists and will always be one of the redeeming qualities of youth ministry. The times when you actually get to spend time with and minister to teenagers...that's nice.

When I started in youth ministry, the "youth room" I was given was terrible. Small, ugly, noisy, inaccessable, a terrible classroom for anybody. I immediately began lobbying for a new one, which we eventually got. But very nearly the only redeeming quality I noticed about the old room was that it was very very close to the inner dimensions of the OT tabernacle (I don't remember how I realized that). So during a study of the Pentateuch, lingering over the stories of the OT, trying to do some creative things to bring to life the existence of ancient people, I decided to recreate the interior of the tabernacle so we could actually try worshipping as the Hebrews were commanded. So I got a bunch of materials, and we went to work. Then I decided to have some fun and put the teens in groups, each with the assigned task of building one of the articles or furnishings of the tabernacle just by reading the instructions given to them in the text.

Someone built an alter, someone built a table, another group built the ark of the covenant. It was interesting and fun and we got some truly strange looking furniture out of the deal. But the two girls I asked to make a "golden lampstand" were having trouble. Understandably, they were having trouble putting the words into a picture, much less an actual lampstand. I tried to help them, but they just got frustrated, so I asked if they'd like to work from a picture of what they were trying to make instead. They agreed, so I went and got a Bible encyclopedia and showed them an artist's rendering of the "the lampstand." One girl took a glance at the picture and glared at me. "That's a Menorah. What? Do these people think they are Jewish or something?"

Sometimes I think I'm such a good teacher...until reality sets it. :-)


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