This last weekend I had the opportunity to attend our denomination’s annual connection for youth workers. Of all the things I get to do throughout the year, this connection is a non-negotiable when it comes to calendar and budget. I know it may sound strange that a denominational gathering is so important, but it is. And I am willing to bet that it is or at least should be for you too. There are may conferences, retreats, and conventions that we get to go to as part of our youth ministry profession. I am continually blown away at the generosity of my church to give me space to continue my education and development. Listening to great speakers, having high-quality worship leaders usher us into the presence of God, and having space to pray, reflect, and listen to the Holy Spirit are regular parts of these experiences. But our denominational gathering fills me in a way that nothing else does.
Sure, we have great speakers, and amazing worship. But what this gathering has compared to other conference experiences, is genuine community with my colleagues.
Youth ministry is a traumatic experience
Youth ministry is a difficult and challenging calling. Those of us who have said yes do it at an enormous cost to our emotional, physical, spiritual, and often financial well-being. We give our entire lives to fickle kids and overbearing parents. We see little fruit and the fruit we do see is often dashed away when the kids head off to college. As amazing as all the upside to youth ministry is, it does come at a cost.
There is a unique bond that is formed by people who share traumatic events and experiences. There is a brotherhood that happens in the Marine Corps that is unlike any other. Their lives depend on each other, their experience is like no other, and therefore they need each other. What the Marines understand that youth workers don’t is that their lives depend on their fraternity.
For my sisters and brothers who share the traumatic calling of youth ministry, our lives are just as inter-dependent. While retreats and conferences care for our soul and give us a shot in the arm, it is the long term, relational connections that happen year in and year out at our denomination’s connection that have proven to save my ministry life.
We need each other
In Romans, Paul talks about how the different parts of the body of Christ actually belong to each other. For my colleagues in ministry, this is how I feel. I belong to you and you belong to me. Your joys are my joys and your sorrows are my sorrows.
The truth is, getting to make this spiritual truth an actual felt reality is a difficult task that involves trust and time. Unfortunately, our calling is defined by the exact opposite. The amazing thing about a denominational connection is that as people move from call to call and as I move, we have a place where we can continue to meet up and share life.
My colleagues in ministry, the sisters and brothers who share my calling to youth ministry, are in my fraternity. And when we gather we are family. It doesn’t matter to me if you are brand new, or if we have shared ministry for decades.
Being known is what fills me up, first and foremost by my Heavenly Father. Thankfully there are plenty of retreats and conferences that make space for this. But being known by actual humans—the actual body of Christ—ministers to my soul more then any Francis Chan talk or Chris Tomlin music could ever do.
If you are brand new, please reach out in friendship, make space for connection, and join our fraternity (in a gender neutral way). If you are a ministry veteran, remember what it was like to be alone and isolated. Make space for new friendships, share your love and wisdom. We need each other, or at least I need you!
I have found my denomination’s connection to be where I get cared for, connected, and filled up. Where do you go where you are known and cared for?