Student ministry is a demanding job, and it seems the longer I do it, the bigger the demands become. Starting out, I couldn’t believe I could actually get paid to spend time with students, take them out to lunch, play video games and help them experience the love and grace of God. As I settled into the job of being a youth worker this simple beginning expanded exponentially. When you take the simple task of loving students and helping them explore their faith, and combine it with the all the extra expectations, emotional mood swings, scared or ticked-off parents, crises, graduation, incoming 6th graders, managing your supervisor, changing programs, and personal growth and transition, it's a miracle that youth workers stick around for even 15 months.
As I reflect on my 17 years of vocational student ministry, I have come to realize that in all I do and have done, two very basic rhythms have allowed me to continue for the long haul.
1) Continue to work out my own faith with fear and trembling. It is easy to slip into a maintenance mode in our faith. Because we spend most of our time with students who are significantly younger than us, it can take a while before we realize that we too have the faith of a sophomore in high school. The truth is, our faith must be our own faith, and the ministry we do must be an overflowing of the work Jesus is doing in our own hearts. (I know this is a no-brainer, but this head knowledge must become heart knowledge if we are going to be all that God longs for us to be.)
We must not settle in our understanding of scripture or in our personal process of sanctification. We are unfinished masterpieces, and to accomplish the good work Jesus has for us to do, we must consistently submit to the hammer and chisel of the Father. What better gift can we give our students than an example of adult faith that is just as much in refinement as their is? And 2 . . .
2) Get connected with other youth workers. For me, I have found that youth ministry is the most emotionally and spiritually taxing endeavor I could experience. We give our entire lives, sacrifice a ton of who we are, to walk alongside fickle students who seem to not even care. We have a ministry of preparation and often never get to experience fruit of our labor. As we are required to spin more and more plates and expected not to drop any of them, where can we go to get encouraged, rebuked, set straight?
We often can’t go to our pastor, it often isn’t right to go to people in the church, and sometimes we can’t even go to our spouse. I have found that fellow youth workers are people who “get it.” They are people who will allow me to share my struggles and my joys. Once you get past the lame dance where you jockey for position, you can actually enjoy some great friendships with people who understand this crazy and amazing job.
Longevity in ministry is a total gift. Sure, it's a gift to parents and students to have a youth worker who has been around the block a few times. But I have found the gift to be all mine as I stick around long enough to see little kids grow into young adults, former students get married, have kids of their own and do great things for the kingdom of God. I would have missed out on this gift several times over if I had not been continually working out my faith in the community of fellow youth workers.
May you too enjoy ministry for the long haul.
If you are a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and are looking to be connected, contact a Youth Ministry Facilitator in your conference and get some love and encouragement so you, too can do ministry for the long haul!