Monday, May 1, 2017

The heartbreaking work of youth ministry

In just a few days our local high school will graduate another class of Seniors. Another group of students will be sent out of the relative safety net of high school and into the big wide world to see what life has to offer. But the school system is not the only one lovingly shoving them out the door. Church youth ministries will celebrate with these young people as they reach this milestone. Then when the summer is over and many of them start college or enter the work force they will find there is no place for them in the student ministry department. They have outgrown us.  As they have moved on we have stayed behind to tend to the next group of up and coming teenagers.

My husband and I have been in youth ministry in the same church for over 12 years now. Next year we have the possibility of seeing our second generation of youth some through as some of those entering 6th grade had parents that were once a part of our youth ministry.  

Over twelve years I have watched many, many scrawny, short 6th graders grow into mature 12th graders. And once you are a part of our ministry you are one of "our kids". I may not feed you everyday or help with homework but I worry about you. And when these mature students go out into the world I worry, too, if we've taught them enough. Did I show them enough Jesus in the past 6 years?  When they felt no one in the world cared did they know they could just show up to youth group and be loved and accepted?

This year a very special group of students graduates. One summer my husband spent more time with the students in this class than he did with our family. I do not exaggerate....I counted. And I didn't totally mind. These kids came to my house on Sunday afternoon...and other days when they learned to drive. They dug out the beaver's dam in my pond and helped set off fireworks on 4th of July. Some days they would come over and mow the grass without being asked....partly because they wanted to drive the zero turn mower.

As with any relationship there are bumps along the way. We grieve when students past or present make decisions not in line with what the Bible teaches. But they will always be our kids. We will always be here if they need to talk or need advice. We celebrate when things go well. 

This letting of go of kids that were never really we borrowed for a few hours every we only had for a few short years...this letting go is the hardest part of youth ministry. Already I can feel our Seniors pulling away. This tearing away doesn't stop us from loving. It doesn't stop us from investing every year in a new group of students that will break our hearts again when they leave. This is the ministry to which God has called us. To equip, guide, grow up another generation of students to walk out into the world and stand for Him. 

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