Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Youth Ministry Aptitude Test

Sometimes student ministry looks
like this...
Many years ago, when fire was first a flicker in the eyes of the first cavemen and there was only one Star Wars movie, I began a career in student ministry that would last nearly 30 years. In those days no one "chose" youth ministry as a lifelong vocation. It was something you did for a variety of reasons, almost none of which were good. Like these:
  1. You hoped to be a "real" pastor someday, but youth pastor was the only job available at the time.
  2. You had enjoyed your own days in a youth group so much that you wanted to stay connected to the ministry in any way possible. When they asked for volunteers at a meeting, you were dumb enough to raise your hand...
  3. You couldn't live without the $50 a month paycheck it provided.
  4. You knew that if you didn't help get the student ministry up and running, Sally and Johnny's parents were going to do it. And NO ONE wanted that!
  5. A pastor came to you when you were 18 and working at a summer camp and told you he thought you would be good at it- mostly because you could play the guitar. Being a sucker for encouragement, you bought it. That's how I got started!
Fast forward 37 years. Now there are degrees in student ministry, both undergraduate and post-graduate. There are dozens (hundreds?) of conferences every year designed to train those who seek to serve God through serving teenagers. There is a level of professionalism in youth ministry unlike anything we have ever seen before or frankly ever imagined back in the day. And these things are all great advances. But all of that education, training and professionalism cannot, in the mind of this old dinosaur, turn someone into a youth pastor. It seems to me that in scripture and in life God does indeed equip the called far more often than God calls the equipped. In fact, the very worst youth pastor I ever knew had 3 doctorates. None of his titles and degrees helped The Reverend Dr. Dr. Dr. Steve actually LOVE teenagers! None of that stuff really prepares you for what it is like to live life, day out and day in, with teenage students & their families. Education and training can prepare you for how to do student ministry, but not how to be a youth pastor. You can learn how to teach theology, but not how to have patience and show unconditional love to kids who are often falling short of expectations. Those things have to come from the heart. I said for many years that here is no greater calling than student ministry, but it does have to be a calling. There are few "jobs" that would be worse. You have to feel the desire to fully, totally and completely share the love of God whose name is Jesus with teenagers by loving them no matter what. And in youth ministry, there are a lot of "whats!" Anyone can be taught to plan events, teach bible studies and drive the church van. It takes a calling to actually love those messy, irrational, irritating and complicated creatures we call "youth."

So today I am going to give anyone who is interested the chance to discover if God is calling (or has already called) them to student ministry. This test will work if you've never really considered the option, and it will work even better if you are already involved in ministry. Just answer these 4 questions. I will even tell you in advance that the correct answer is always "3." If you feel any inclination to argue with me about the correct answers based on what they taught you in a youth ministry class, then you have already failed my course. Ready for your final exam? Here we go...

A)  You go with a group of students to get ice cream after youth group.  Some of the newer kids don't have any cash because they were unaware of this tradition.  Do you...

  1. Tell them better luck next time and taunt them with your cone of chocolate.
  2. Offer to loan them money if they will wash the church van.
  3. Offer to buy them ice cream because they are part of your youth group family now.

B)  David calls from a party around midnight and says he has been drinking and needs a ride.  Do you...

  1. Tell him he has the wrong number. Give him the number of your senior pastor. (I will accept this answer as well!)
  2. Give him a stern lecture on the evils of alcohol, reminding him that Jesus never went near the stuff.  Well...except when he turned water into wine. But nobody ever saw him drink it!  Now call a cab and stop bothering me.
  3.  Go get him and take him home. Along with any of his friends that have no business on the road and no one to call. You can talk about this later.

C)  16 year old Beth strolls into your office and tells you she is pregnant.  Do you...

  1. Offer to hunt down and destroy the father, Predator style!
  2. Explain to her how embarrassing this will be for you and the church. How could she do this to you?
  3. Offer to sit with her and pray for her while she tells her parents and they face a new future together.

D)  Keri (an actual name of an actual caller!) calls you in the middle of the night because she heard an old song on the radio and knew you would know who sang it and what it was called.  Do you...

  1. Scream and yell at her demanding that she seek psychiatric help.
  2. Hand the phone to your spouse and say, "It's for you, dear."
  3. Ask her what the lyrics were and then answer her question, thrilled that she knew that she could count on you. THEN ask, "Couldn't this have waited 'til morning?" 
So there it is.  You have now completed The CJ School of Youth Ministry. I'm sure that some of you cheated, but hey- it's youth ministry! :) My point today is simply this- student ministry is not about "fixing" teenagers. That is a task best left to God. It's about loving them in a way that shows them who Jesus is and how much he loves them. It doesn't take advanced degrees to to do that. It takes a heart full of the love of God, and a willingness to share it.  And a ton...TON...of prayer.  Do you have what it takes?

Because of Jesus,

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