Youth Ministry and the Olympics: What medal do your students strive for?

the-wrong-motivation-in-youth-ministry-590x260 This post was originally featured on youthmin.org.

I don’t know how it is in your house, but ours is completely captivated by the XXX Summer Olympics.   Every night our entire family gathers around our tv and watches the dramatic story through the lens of NBC.  And without exception every night has been some of the best tv as we watch olympic athletes compete for Gold, for world records, and for personal triumph.

It is humbling and awe-inspiring to watch humans, with the exact same DNA make up as me make their bodies do things that seem beyond capability.

I can barely do 10 sit-ups, and the male gymnasts are mesmerizing in their seemingly effortless flips and spins across the floor and on the pommel horse.  Or the track and field stars racing at speeds I can barely achieve on a bike going down hill as fast as I can.

Years and years of training, practicing, testing has whittled the field of amateur enthusiasts to those with the combination of God-given abilities and incredible work ethic.  And the result is a once in a lifetime shot for a Gold Medal, and if you have a good enough story and are beautiful enough, you also earn some air time on NBC.

But then it is all over.  For they gymnast who has given her entire life to a sport, every day, every holiday, every meal, every friendship has all submitted to the goal of becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist.  And of the thousands and thousands of people seeking this goal, one woman, Gabby Douglas pulled it off.  For the thousands the dream is over, and for Gabby her dream is fulfilled, but her dream is now just as much over as the others.  And the question now remains, now what.

As impressed as I am with Olympic athletes and for all that their discipline and self control has to teach me about the Christian life, it is the focus on fame and celebrity of these Olympics that got me thinking about a major cultural deficiency in the life of students and therefore student ministry.

It seems to me that every one of my students is striving to be accepted, to belong, to be secure in who they are.  And the way they are told to get there is through being famous.

Now, no one will say that out right, but everything they do is to gain status and recognition.  If they post something on Facebook and there isn’t enough likes, they take it down.  If they can get something to go viral, they have “arrived.”

I know this is true and the sad part is that I know this to be true because it is so alive in me, the desire to be known and famous, to get my 15 minutes of fame.  But whenever I have come even modestly close to achieving some sort of fame, I realize that I am still me.  Nothing fundamentally changes by being invited to speak, to have someone really important like a blog post, to work at a known church, or whatever.

The sad part is that our students, and if we are not careful, even us Youth Pastors, can get caught up in the olympics of fame and tirelessly strive for some allusive medal and even better, 15 minutes of fame.  But as the author of Ecclesiastics writes, it is all meaningless.

As youth workers we have the opportunity to re-shape the medals and fame our students are striving for. For the race in which we are called is a marathon relay with little glamor or pizzaz.  We are simply called to run our leg faithfully, just as those who came before us rantheirs.

And it is in the faithful running of our leg of the race that we build character and earn treasures that are eternal.  Treasures that will not fade and are not fleeting.  Treasures that are not erased from memory as soon as a commercial break happens or the next person breaks our record.

By getting our own house in order and dying to our own dreams of Gold Medals and fame, we can settle into the youth workers God created us to be;  To be the most important youth worker in the lives of our specific and local students who populate our student ministries.  We get the privilege to speak truth, love, grace, and affirmation into their lives.  So that by God’s grace, they will learn sooner rather than later that they are called to a higher games, one where they are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  A race where their unique gifts and talents are needed.  And a race where the runners win a prize that never withers or fades!

And it is for this reason that I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.