As we gear up for a new year and new semester of ministry, it is easy to get caught up in urgent tasks and miss the mark on what we are actually called to do as youth workers. Now, don't get me wrong, tasks like the details that go into a successful and engaging youth group, planning events, buying supplies and setting up fun games, the study and preparation for your talks, receipts, and contact work, are all important, but these tasks are only the action steps that must be informed by the four key tasks of student ministry. If you do these four tasks well then you will be a rock star for the kingdom of God and for your church!
1) Embrace Jesus: I know you love Jesus and you long to serve Him. At least you did at the start. But this job is brutal and we are often are on the receiving end of a lot of crap. We get beat down, feel disrespected by parents and kids, and see little fruit. If we are not careful our cynicism and angst creates a hard heart. While we think we are just being "truth tellers," the truth is that we are far from Jesus. Or we are awesome and killing it, and our gifts are getting the job done quite well. And without even knowing it, we have followed where our gifts have lead us, not where the give of those gifts wants to take us.
No matter what camp you find yourself, keeping a heart that is soft towards Jesus is our number one task. Without Jesus we can do nothing. He is the vine and we are simply branches. What looks great and amazing or what looks barren, is only how it looks to our eyes. We can't judge our effectiveness, that fruit gets harvested way down the road. What we can control is our walk with Jesus. And if we don't embrace Jesus and point all things toward Him, then we are simply spinning our wheels. We are not religious teachers, but we are followers of Jesus who saved our souls, heal our hearts, and empowers us for life and ministry. We pick up our cross daily, we embrace salvation and strive for sanctification. And our identity is found in HIM!
2) Love Students: This may seem like a no brainer, but stop and think about what you do and why you do it. Because you love students in general, or actual, specific students. When we generically love students, we are missing the mark. It's like loving "humanity." We are called to love actual, specific 16 year olds, 12 year olds in their actual life circumstance. To be their shepherd, priest, and friend. We are tasked to pour love, mercy, and grace on them, and point them to Jesus. We can not put our agenda on them, make them fit in our box, conform to our standards. Our students come from such chaos and broken places, they are ruled by anxiety, depression, and insecurity. They need to know that they are loved by Jesus and by the church. And YOU ARE THE ACTUAL HANDS AND FEET OF JESUS FOR THS TASK!
3) Serve Parents: The hardest part of my job is watching parents totally fail at parenting. If only they would do what I say, then everything would be great. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to watch parents screw up their kids. Oh, wait, I only know an hour and a half a week of the students I work with. I haven't known them their entire lives, seen the fickleness, immaturity, or straight up awfulness that gets poured out on the home front. Being a parent is difficult enough as it is. Being a parent of a teenager is a straight up crapshoot. Parents don't need our judgement or condescension. Especially, since we are significantly younger and are mostly on the front end of parenting, if we are parents at all. What a change if we saw, as part of our job, to be a support for parents. To not be their leaders, counselors, or sage, but simply made it a point to serve them. When we humble ourselves to the parents of our students, everyone wins! (Plus, when you speak like you know to parents, they may smile and nod, but inside, you have just become dead to them. Don't die to them)
4) Champion Your Pastor: Did you know that for as much passion and care as you have for student ministry, your lead pastor has for the entire church. You are responsible for one tiny ministry among all the ministries at the church. Just because your pastor isn't as young or as cool as you, doesn't mean anything. Most of the lack of fun they seem to express is because they are too busy fighting for your job in budget meetings, walking through families that are blowing up, serving faithful saints as they are on their death bed, and trying not to rip your face off as you speak to them like they are idiots. And even if your pastor is an idiot, that isn't on you to fix. Your pastor is your boss, your supervisor, and you are under their leadership. But what is wild, (no matter what chumps they are) if you champion them and their passions, you will win their respect and they will champion you and your passions.
If you notice, all of these tasks are not about you, your platform, your glory. As youth workers we pour out our lives in humble service to Jesus, students, parents, and our pastor. We keep the mind of Christ who, was God, but took on the form of a servant! And what is too funny is that in God's economy, the more we die to our self, the more esteem we have in our church. And with this esteem we then get to leverage our gifts and talents so that more and more parents and students may follow and love Jesus.
Let's keep the main things the main thing this year!