This fall I kicked off my 17th year as a youth worker. One might expect that by this point in my career I would have it all dialed in. For the basic logistics, program, and structure (which hasn't fundamentally changed, ever) it was a flawless launch. But for anyone who has done student ministry for more than a year, these logistics and structures are not the easy or hard part of this job, it is simply the field in which we play.
The people who I have, and currently do, look up to in student ministry have managed to keep the easy things easy, and treat the difficult things with the weight in which they deserve. So, the trick to thriving is simply to enjoy the easy part, and work hard at the hard part.
THE EASIEST JOB ON THE PLANET: LOVING STUDENTS
Did you know that the only real job for the youth worker is to simply love students. That is the beginning, middle, and end of our job. Everything we do has this at its core. Every thing we do is motivated by this reality. Most youth workers got into this gig because they love students and want them to love Jesus. Those who stick around and thrive have made the jump from generic "students," to the more specific, Maggie, Sarah, Tristian, JJ, Nilsen, Spencer, Jessica, Katurah, Hannah, Bix, Haley, Kimmie, Shelby, and Kyleigh. (Insert your small group here)
Generically loving students makes you the hero of the grand drama of student ministry. Worried parents, annoying students, close minded senior pastors, are all glitches to your center stage focus of ministry. But when your love becomes specific, then you are no longer the center of the play. You are simply one of the many actors in the particular student's drama, they are the star, not you, not me.
The easiest part of our job is to actually see the students God has entrusted to your ministry. See them, love them where they are at, and love them right into the kingdom of God!
THE HARDEST JOB ON THE PLANET: STANDING IN THE GAP!
The many things that we think are difficult in this job all pale in comparison to the true difficulty of this job. Because of our love for particular students we long for them to come to know Jesus and have their lives conform to Him. Part of that process is the logistical and loving way in which we plant and water, plant and water. But as we learn from scripture, I may plant, you may water, but it is God who causes faith to grow!
The hardest part of this job is the spiritual task in which we have really been called. We are to be priests, shepherds, pastors, to students who are on the journey of faith. The call that God has put on our life is to stand in the spiritual gap, to translate, to mediate, to introduce our students to the God who loves and has huge plans for them.
This entire part of our job is so hard because it doesn't fit in our calendar, on our weekly task sheet, and has results that we can't see and often will never see. This is the part of our job that we do in private, in the quiet of the mornings, in the isolation of a solo hike or run, the quiet drive to and from youth group, wherever that place you go to meet with God. This is where this part of the job happens.
It is hard because there is no love for doing this job correctly, because it is done in secret.
It is hard because there is no rhyme or reason to how and when God uses our feeble efforts.
It is hard because most of us don't have the disciplines in our life to do the spiritual work that God has tasked us with.
It is hard because our battle is not between flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly rheims.
May we as youth workers, do the tasks of our job well, but not lose sight as to what the real work of our job is. And may we enjoy the part of our job that is the easiest as we ooze never ending love and grace upon our students, and may we gird up for the spiritual battle in front of us which is truly the hardest part of our job!