I have worked in student ministry, both part-time and full-time, for eighteen years now. If I count internships and such, it’s been around twenty. I have learned quite a bit in my time, as all people do in their own professions. Some of it has been useful knowledge; some of it would only prepare me for a Cliff Claven version of Jeopardy. For instance, how much milk can one consume before they vomit? Not exactly information that’s going to be useful in, say, helping someone get through a hard time. But I guess I’m more interesting at parties because of it. Eight-year-old birthday parties, that is.
So here are a few of the hundreds of things I’ve learned. I boiled them down to ten. Not top 10. Just ten I felt would make a good blog post:
- I’m glad I’m a Padres fan. It has taught me humility and suffering that I will need down the road. Some pepper atrocities like drug abuse and absent fathers into their testimonies. I have the pathetic baseball club from San Diego. I blame the marine layer.
- Numbers aren’t important. After about year ten, I got tired of deriving my value as a human being from how many students decided to show up to the event or weekly Bible study I had worked so hard to plan. It hurts to lose a head-to-head battle with geometry homework. I never minded if kids missed to go to game seven of the championship series. But geometry? It reminded me too much of excuses I received when I tried to further my dating life.
- Having goals like “graduating students with their virginity intact” is short-sighted. Remember the True Love Waits movement? Sure you do. You had the ring. The card. It was all well and good and lots of people made lots of money selling cheap rings for $40. Perhaps I can do a blog on that later. But I have found that God uses all types of people. Even those who commit sins. I know, right? While I still try to help students make good decisions in high school, I am more concerned with preparing them for life, divorce, miscarriages, death of parents, job loss, suffering, struggle, success. Have a student who didn’t make it to prom? Be nice, encourage, reach out, but know that this failure will prepare her for life way more than “Mud Night” did last July.
- Parents have way more influence on kids than I do. Figured this out in year one. Sucks.
- I don’t have to go to every ballgame. But I should go to some. Or one. Or a quarter of one. But make sure the parents see me!
- Boundaries are important. See #5. You have to take control of your life. And family. If you don’t, someone else will. This is important and would be on my actual top 10 list.
- I have to make student ministry important in my church. People always say, if the pastor doesn’t back it, it won’t happen. That’s true. Sometimes that happens automatically; sometimes you have to work that angle. Luckily, I haven’t had to do this very much, but many of my colleagues have. Sadly, many just get frustrated and find another church, when probably a few coffee meetings at Starbucks filled with good conversation would have made a world of difference. Learn marketing, branding, and public relations.
- Stretch before doing physical activity. Kids want you to play basketball? Are you over age 35? Stretch it out.
- Make good friends that aren’t in youth ministry. I get sick of talking about it, don’t you?
- Measure the “success” of your ministry based on how your kids connect with the Kingdom of God after they leave your ministry. I recently spoke with two young men on whom I had little influence while in the youth group. Now, they are incredible Christian leaders in ministry. Unfortunately, I will not get any billing in their testimony. But regardless, they are on the front lines of God’s Kingdom work. If you have 300 kids coming to your well-branded ministry but can’t see any fruit when they’re twenty-five, you’re doing something wrong. But I’m glad they’re having a good time, at least.
OK, there you go. For those of you who have never read me, I am not a bitter old man. Quite the contrary. But I am dry, sarcastic, and lightly cynical—but God’s working on me! Keep that in mind as you create the voice you hear as you read these words. Keep your edge!