Monday, April 18, 2011

Youth Ministry & the Art of Bouncing Back

My friend and former Springfield Friends Meeting youth Ken Hill (class of '87) is running his first Boston Marathon today.  I am excited for and proud of him, and I hope it encourages Ken to know that many prayers are with him!  Press on towards the prize!

Our theme for the student ministries of Wesley Memorial UMC in the summer of 2003 was SHINE!  As was my tradition (since 1988) I published a summer brochure (at left) highlighting all of the amazing adventures we would share. I mailed the publicity in early May to build the excitement, just as I always did.  But this time there was one serious difference.  As I mentioned here last week (Pass the Loot!) the church pulled the rug out from under us in regards to our budget money, and so we had to radically change our two major trips and a few smaller things.  My 24 page guide to summer of 2003 was full of bad information.  But just as in showbiz, the show went on.  We bounced back.  And we had a great summer...

I have often thought that being a youth pastor is a lot like being a cornerback in football.  Cornerbacks cover great receivers and often get burned for long pass plays and touchdowns- and everyone in the stadium can see it happen.  The only way to survive as a quality CB is to be able to completely forget about the bad plays and go forward with confidence.  So it is with student ministry.  Events fall apart.  Relationships sour.  You give someone bad advice.  You sin.  Parents let you have it with both barrels.  Churches take away your budget.  And yet you have to step back on the "field" immediately and try again.  The difference is you do it not because you have faith in your own ability, like the football player- you do it because you have faith in the God you serve.  And you believe the work you do matters.

So instead of our planned trip to the Big Stuff Camp at Panama Beach, we went to Six Flags in Atlanta, as well as a Braves game.  Instead of Nashville, our mission trip was to Spartanburg, SC.  We stayed in a rehab center and helped serve meals, sort clothing and a variety of other tasks.  It was practically free, which was good, and our group had a great time and grew much closer.  It turned out that we were all crazy (like a fox...OHHHH! - inside joke) and loved finding ways to serve others while laughing the day away.  We toned down our annual Youth Week, but still hosted Curt Cloninger for a night and had a marvelous Rec Around the Clock lock-in.  We did away with a few other planned events, but still managed to pull off all of our smaller gatherings and all of our ministry team events.  And thanks to some behind the scenes fundraising and an incredible deal from the band, we closed the summer with a concert from the then red-hot band The Swift.  A group of us shared dinner with them at Chili's after the show and made more memories.  It was a wonderful summer.

It is my personal opinion that if you're in youth ministry and haven't had a program that failed or an idea that got you in trouble in the past year, then you are not doing your job.  If we don't push the limits and show kids the radical nature of Jesus, then it is unlikely anyone else in the church will.  We all get knocked down.  That is not a big deal.  The question becomes this:  What will you do when you get back up?  I always took my answer from the late singer/songwriter Keith Green.  In one of his songs he wrote, "So just keep doing your best, and pray that it's blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest."  Bouncing back is pretty simple when Jesus is in your corner.  I learned that in a big way in 2003.  Coming up Wednesday- Night of Joy 2003 and the big Graceland explosion!

Because of Jesus,

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