I’ve been in student ministry year-round, non-stop since June 2004. Before that, I did three summers of student ministry. Back then it was known as “youth ministry.” In many careers nine years would not be substantial. But in student ministry, I’m getting close to “dinosaur” status. (Then, of course, I’ll be my paleontologist-wannabe-son’s hero.)
For many pastors, student ministry is a necessary first step, a building block to a career in “real” ministry. The dramatic, confusing, scary, intimidating, unknown, rebellious, exhausting, LOUD, LOUD, LOUD world of teenagers is a world that must be endured, suffered through, until a church deems you mature enough to teach, preach, plan, and pray for people over the age of 18. So, lots of young pastors do student ministry for 3-4 years and move on. This means most students have more than one student pastor during their 6-7 years in “student ministry.” It also means students often feel like the stepping stones they are.
So, while I’m only 31-years-old, I’m in an elite group of pastors. I’m one of the ones who actually love teenagers to my very core. I’m one of the ones who willingly step into their world, even though I’m not part of it anymore, willing to risk looking like the old, non-cool person I am. Because I know they matter. I know they need to know there are people who love them, accept them, want to understand them, listen to them, believe in them, and advocate for them.
Recently, I read an article and watched a video, “I’ve Seen It All.” It’s a video to encourage people like me who pastor to, with, and for students. I enjoyed the blog and the video. Check it out here: http://www.youthministry.com/articles/leadership/i%E2%80%99ve-seen-it-all I decided to make my own list. If you’ve been in my student ministry as a student, parent, or volunteer, then I’d love to see your additions to this list!
I’ve Seen It All
Student small groups.
Bonfires, scavenger hunts, river floats, laser tag, ski trips, bowling, putt-putt, amusement parks, concerts, ice skating, beach trips, progressive dinners, shaving cream wars, Capture the Flag, outdoor movies, go-carts, inflatables, ping-pong, 4-square, volleyball, basketball, football, foosball, skateboards, dodge ball, Trainwreck, Mafia, Apples to Apples, Ninja, Kumcha, Red Rover.
Lock-ins for 30 students…and 150…and 225.
Mission teams that fit in one 15-passenger van. Mission teams that require 15 such vans. Mission teams that require airplanes.
The parent who forgets their kid is at church…for over an hour after everyone else is gone.
The never-ending, inappropriate testimony.
Trips to the ER for busted lips, broken toes, and broken arms.
A hole in the dry wall from a skateboard.
Students lying in the middle of the road…at dusk…just because.
Air mattresses turned into rafts in a city water main break.
The parent who screams at the pastor, because they really want to scream at their kid and know that’s not okay.
The parent who cannot believe you’d show that movie.
The junior high boy who knocks down his mom and steals her car.
The student who walks miles to my apartment to get away from a drug-using, passed out father.
The students the schools have kicked out.
The judge in the courtroom hearing my plea to extend grace to at-risk students.
The visiting room at the jail, the phone to communicate through clear plastic, when grace wasn’t an option.
The School Board passing judgment on whether a student can stay or not.
The ecstasy of high school graduation, for the one who barely made it.
The tears of parents who don’t know what else to do or if they’ve done anything right.
The tears of students who don’t know what else to do or if they’ve done anything right.
Cigarettes smoked at youth group.
Drugs sold on the mission trip.
Divorce, and the deep wounds it inflicts on families.
Teenagers having babies.
The hospital floor for mental health—the lockers for personal items, the locked door, and the young girl who jumped on my back, begging me not to leave her there.
Cancer. In a teenager. It’s not okay…
People come…and go…and come back sometimes.
Parents and teenagers out of control, yelling at me, denying my faith, cussing at me, calling me a colorful variety of names.
I’ve listened to stories of abuse—drugs, words, fists, sex.
I’ve been highly esteemed and highly criticized.
I’ve been told I made a difference and that I make no difference.
I’ve been in trouble with the Senior Pastor, the Executive Pastor, and just about every other pastor.
I’ve been in trouble for mentioning Grey’s Anatomy and the “S” word—sex.
I’ve fallen in the puke of a drunk student.
I’ve fought for students to have a full-time pastor with full-time pay.
I’ve fought when I didn’t have any more fight in me.
I’ve wanted out.
I’ve been unable to imagine doing anything else.
And, like the video, I’ve seen amazing things, too…
Victims of sexual abuse move forward.
The at-risk student become the go-to chaperone.
Students and families heal and learn from divorce.
Adults find healing in the community of teenagers.
Adults re-discover their faith in a student small group.
Students come to church and to faith all alone, without their families.
Whole families come to church and to faith together.
Students and adults learn to live with mental illness.
Parents make good, hard, tough love decisions…and see them pay off.
Parents heal from their own adolescent scars.
Students lead worship, preach, lead ministries, lead kids to Jesus.
Students grow up, get married, have babies, serve on the board of elders (Steering Team for us), serve in the student ministry.
God save, redeem, restore, and make new.