Last night, our students and I embarked on a journey of newness. I hope it is new to them. I began a series of Wed. night classes using the popular videos from Rob Bell, the Nooma series. It has been a while, since I have viewed any of these vidoes. There is something strangely nerdy and yet drawing about Rob's videos. Anyway, the first video in the series is titled "rain." It has been one of my favorites. I love the part at the end where the dad holds his son close and says, "i love you buddy, where going to make it, dad knows the way home." This phrase means more to me as a parent then it did just out of college, with no children. There is something special that takes place when a father holds a child close and whispers words of encouragment, and the child finds those loving arms to be safe, secure, and strong.
We talked about storms in our lives, and how we will all have them over and over again in our lives, we talked about suffering and how it draws us close to Christ, and how God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses. I thought all in all, it was a good class.
But, having said all that, here are some observations I have about class, and youth ministry in general:
1. we spend all the time preparing lesson, studying, praying and thinking how best to craft our messages to our students, then class starts and one or more kids are more interested in their cell phones and texting a friend than they are listening to your well thought out lesson. This is called a reality check. Not all of our students care, not all of our students hang on every word we say. Actually, there is so much going on around them, that our time together on Wed. night would be better spent if we could capture the essence of their culture, and use it in a positive way. Could we have a class devoted to communicating through text messaging? I don't know if it would work, would it draw more interest? I think a lot of us in youth ministry miss opportunities to connect to our students in meaningful ways. We have to be looking for bridges all the time, to help connect the reality of gospel with their reality of selfishness and materialism.
2. Youth ministry is hard work. I think I have already alluded to this above, but working with youth and families is hard work. It is never ending. Sometimes, it is hard to see any headway, and we can't define success on big numbers, big budgets or big buildings. I think culturally where we are is at a place where autheniticity and experience are hugely important not only for our students but also for our parents. However, some of the experiential things are kids may go for, their parents may not like it, and certainly the older generations wouldn't buy into it either. But, there remains the fact that the emerging generations are wanting real experiences of God, and not just a 45 minute lecture in a class. In addition to being a chaffeur at times, and a janitor, we must also be architects, looking for ways to build authentic encounters of God into our youth ministries. I don't think this happens over night, I think it is something we must stumble into haphazardly even for some of us. But, nonetheless, looking for ways to allow our kids to experience the truths of Scripture and the presence of God with all of their senses is more and more important these days. With our postmodern culture, and a general decline in people's general acceptance of the Bible as the sole truth, and seeing Christians as biggoted, hypocritical, hate mongering followers of God, and protectors of an institution of power and politics it is vastly important that we win back what it means to followers of Jesus Christ. The essential element of discipleship for all time and all believers is love for God and neighbor (stranger). We can't loose sight of the fact that we are called to be selfless, humble, reverant, aliens and redeemed people. When we lose sight of the radical call to abandon self and follow Jesus, and we loose ourselves in institutional politics we will loose a voice in our culture, and we certainly have a lot of ground to recover in our world today.
3. Youth Ministry is worth it. Hard work aside, the thrill of working with emerging generations is invigorating. With all the muck of postmodernity, we are working with generations of students that are hopeful, that want to be active in their communities and globally. We need to be tapping into this interest and harnessing it for the good of the world. Youth Ministry in a nut shell is summed up in the parable of the sowers. The important point in the story, at least in my mind this morning, is that the seeds are being planted. Some of that which is planted may never produce a crop, for the seed that does, watch out and be amazed. So, wherever you are this morning and whatever flavor of church you find yourself in, don't give up youth work. It is worth it. For many students, we are the only Jesus they will see and experience, and who knows the full impact of what their futures hold and the lives they will touch because your influence. God bless you brothers and sisters!