I love / hate Facebook!
This last month one of my old youth group kids go married. And because of Facebook I got the pleasure of knowing all about it and being so happy for her and his amazing new chapter of her life. At the same time, I got the pain of seeing picture after picture of my old youth group kids celebrating with her along with the youth pastor who served after me. For over 7 years I served in a context and in that time, I had the opportunity to pour my life into this incredible group of girls. They were all so talented, fun, reflective, and strong leaders. They were the core of my student ministry and going to the be the anchor as they transitioned into upperclassmen.
It was at that junction that I was called away from that context and a new youth pastor stepped in. This new youth pastor is awesome and a friend. But from a totally worldly perspective, I was so bummed that he got to reap the fruit of my years of investment. Just as they were becoming amazing, I left and he got a group of amazing young women who were all ready to step up and lead. And with his leadership and love they thrived and continued to be great friends and a mentor into adult hood. And now got to celebrate this amazing event together.
This is the natural rhythm of student ministry:
My angst about all this is mine alone. It is the natural transition in ministry. Youth workers pour their lives into kids and after a time the youth worker moves on, or more likely, the students move on and graduate. And for the most ministry minded kids, those who came to know and love Jesus under your care, head out into the great big world ready to go to the next level in their faith and in their leadership.
I can't tell you the number of conversations I have had with college students over Christmas or summer break tell me how amazing their Bible study leader is, or how amazing their college pastor is. They are so excited to share with me their growing edges and had no idea there were authors out there like Rob Bell, Francis Chan, N.T. Wright, John Piper, etc. Did you even know that some people even speak in tongues?
Again, I am so glad that these students are finding places to land and are thriving spiritually. But deep within me, my heart still breaks and bitterness seeps in a bit to watch the years of labor, of planting and watering get harvested by some chump college pastor who oozes with passion and hipster glasses.
However, there is a grace when you stick around in one context for a long time.
I may have missed out on the wedding of an amazing student from my last context. I may miss out on some of the deep and life changing 2AM conversations that happen on a college campus. I may even miss out on the roller coaster of walking with young adults fall in and out of love.
But every now and then, one of these students who I have poured my guts into when they were punk kids end up moving back home, or simply have grown up and are becoming adults who know and love Jesus. They are getting married, having kids, and even want to serve in the ministry that helped shape and form them.
Out of God's graciousness, He has given me a handful of students from days gone by to come back as interns, or volunteer staff, or simply as friends. I get to live normal adult life alongside them. And while I may not get the amazing Instagram photo at some event, I get the pleasure of partnering with friends.
Harvesting in youth ministry is a rare activity.
Youth ministry is not a ministry of harvest. It is a ministry of planting and watering. It is a ministry of selflessly pouring out your life into self-absorbed and immature adolescents. To share with them the love and grace of Jesus and give them experiences of what the Kingdom of God looks like, and expose them to opportunities for them to be close to God and the places where He is at work.
But, by sticking around, staying put, and being faithful to the task we are called to do, every now and then, God graciously allows us to participate in the harvest!
May you faithfully pour your life into students, selflessly plant and water until your hands and knees are blistered and sore. So that the Lord of the Harvest may do His work in His time. And every now and then, may God be gracious to you and allow you not just enjoy the harvest, but the joy of sharing life with those you have walked with since their childhood.