My birthday is just around the corner.
Now, I’m not that old, but the older I get it feels like the faster the world becomes.
I’m a child of the 80’s. I can still remember using my grandmother’s rotary phone (if you don’t know what that is click here. haha.) to call home as a kid.
I can’t help but notice the challenges that are present in the world and what will be even more pressing to a rising generation. Delayed adulthood looks like it’s here to stay and well, I don’t know…it has me asking myself if we’re raising a bunch of wimps? Seems there’s someone somewhere constantly spouting about how entitled they are to _____________ (<<< insert entitled preference about entitlement here). We may have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it appears that some would rather forego this pursuit in lieu of having the world handed to them on a shiny, diamond-studded platter.
I never thought that I would end up in ministry. I didn’t walk into it, rather when I encountered needs on a level I never expected, ministry became my undeniable passion.
In 2006, when I first began teaching, I was placed in a very difficult environment. It was one of those back-woods, country ghetto, small, southern towns that I didn’t want to be in. It was also the first time I would have a 16-year-old kid yell at me at the top of their voice while standing only inches from my face. (Not Cool.)
My honest assessment?
For the first 4 months I hated the world. In those four months, I went through the worst break up of my life, had a nice, new, expensive phone stolen by one of my students, and I was in a near-fatal car accident. As for the students I taught, it was me versus them, or so I thought.
Then something shifted. I figured, well, I could either hate this or make the best out of it. The next six months changed my life.
Instead of fighting with these students, I took it upon myself to invest in every one of them as often as I could. At the school year’s end, I shared Christ with each of my classes. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away. Without asking, the students took it upon themselves to stand up in the middle of class and pray the prayer of salvation out loud. In some cases, of their own volition, they chose to circle together and join hands. Some even wrote letters of apology and repentance. They gave these letters to me the last day of school. I’ve kept them to this day.
I’ve been working with students for more than 10 years now, both in the classroom and in the pulpit.
So often, I encounter adults who look at youth ministry or children’s ministry as though its substandard. Like working with younger people is a sub-rate gig or somehow just a stepping stone to “real” ministry with full-grown adults.
This air of pride gets to me. Actually, it upsets me more than I care to express.
To these folks I would say:
I write to you asking you to remember what life was like when you were 13.
Yes, times were different and so were you. Do you remember the challenges of adolescence? When was the last time you acquainted yourself with the identity struggle of being 16?
Life was awkward and chances are, so were you.
Do you remember the longing you had for direction and understanding of what life was really about?
Do you recall wrestling with your ideals for a bright future, while still contending with the obstacles that pressed against you in the real world?
You had big dreams, and somewhere in the back of your mind, you sensed it was all possible.
On one particular day, in front of a crowd, you walked across a stage (or wished you had), shook some hands, and received a document to validate the your academic efforts from the past 12 years. It was a big day . You’re grandmother most likely kissed your faced and those you know sent you congratulatory cards filled with fat cash.
At that instant, the world expected more from you. You didn’t know it, but the turning of a tassel would translate you into adulthood and responsibility sooner than you could expect.
Those next few years, your massive, social bubble collapsed revealing who all of your true friends were.
Rising into the adult life, you figured out the game and became well acquainted with those words your mom used to say, “Just wait ’till you grow up and have to pay bills.” To this day, you hate those words. You know very well the struggle of wanting more, but never having quite enough to satisfy that need. What you do have, you believe you’ve earned by the merit of your own efforts.
You look at kids these days thinking, “Man, these kids have no idea. Where’s the respect like when I was kid? I don’t know what the future holds with the world going to a generation like this?”
But what you’ve forgotten, is that your generation was no different in how it pressed the edge of self-indulgence…riding the line of right and wrong and blurring the lines for those who would follow. Whether it was rock ’n roll, being a flower child, going disco (disco sucks, by the way), demanding your MTV, or donning black, crew necks with ripped jeans and flannel, the truth is, your generation was the loud one that no one understood.
What everyone else perceived as awful, you thought of as freedom of expression and finding your place in the world.
Soon after, adulthood whisked you away. There were a few defining breakups and lame jobs until you settled in a place that was semi-comfortable. These days, you claim the world is going to pot, while forgetting about that time in 8th grade where you once smoked it because your friends told you it was “cool.”
Somewhere between then and now, you found church or religion. It seemed like a good idea and you wanted your kids to “do right,” so why not plug in for a while?
Today, you see a multitude of young lives making poor decisions and can’t even fathom how this might be rectified, so you find yourself saying things like, “Kids these days! When are they ever gonna learn?”
Unfortunately, you never learned either. You were so consumed looking forward at the state of your own life that you forgot to reach back. You see the need, but bare none of the responsibility, because how could this be your problem? Your life experience, matched with forced inconsideration makes you a walking contradiction.
You acknowledge there’s a problem. Yes, there is, and you’re part of it.
Worse yet, you’ve taken to serving in your local church. Turned off by the riffraff of this present age, you pride yourself on working with the adults because that’s where the “real” ministry is. But you couldn’t be more wrong. Could it be that your ministry preference is just an amalgamation of minds, all who think just like you?
Adult you may be, but the jury is still out on whether or not you are “grown up.”
Wanna love Jesus and change the world? Stop seeking position and start serving the demands of a generation in need.
There’s a 13 year old kid out there looking for direction just as you once did. They’re hoping to find it. Despite age, they’re looking for someone, anyone who can help them along the way. More than cool, they're looking for people who live and love in a genuine way. If you can be real, you can make a difference.
It could be you.
Children and youth are not the church of tomorrow, they’re the church of today. The sooner you start acting like it the sooner you’ll see yourself as an agent of change, not one liberated from it based on personal preference and age difference. (What was that about being entitled, again?)
But I’ll have to warn you, kids can be crazy. They’ll believe anything you tell them.
I’ll guess they’re just naive enough to believe that anything really is possible.
I guess that’s one thing they have in common with God, isn’t it?
Your Local Youth Pastor
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