I am beginning a series of posts based upon an email exchange with my friend who is also a pastor in Northern Kentucky, Jordan Jones. He oversees the youth ministry of his church, while I primarily oversee the Community Groups at mine. To see where God is at work in our churches and lives, we are discussing various aspects of our ministries. Part Two.
CHRIS: Hey Jordan, since we’re both not too busy—you know, with you having three kids, pursuing doctoral studies, and working full-time, as well as me prepping for my first kid on the way, working full-time and looking for housing—I thought it would be a great opportunity to have an email exchange about our ministries. So let me kick this thing off: Why do you do Youth Ministry? What gets you out of bed in the morning for ministry?
JORDAN: Serving teenagers is certainly different than serving adults. One of the pros might be that teenagers generally still possess somewhat of a blank slate, which is ideal for those who are trying to influence them with the gospel. In that sense, you get to see results quicker in teens than in adults. Don’t get me wrong, teens come with lots of baggage, just like adults, but many times the said baggage hasn’t yet morphed into cold, hard bitterness. I’ve been asked the question, “What do you guys do to get the kids to come and keep coming?? For that, there is no secret formula. The answer is so very simple that it’s almost insulting–you MUST love them. I’m not talking about the feeling of love you have in your heart that they know nothing about; I’m talking about constantly and actively displaying love. This materializes by doing, doing, and more doing. It doesn’t present itself in the form of a huge worship band, tons of activities and games; rather, the purest exhibition of daily love is manifested in spending quality time with those to whom you minister. Whether by phone (text) or in person, you counsel them, pray with them, encourage them, AND laugh with them. Sure, they’ll listen to your Sunday night exposition of 2 Peter, and the more mature ones will actually grow from it, but the “meat and potatoes” of youth ministry is found in the gospel-centered exposition of life that takes place on the front-porch swing of the youth pastor’s house—it’s the 2am Scripture-infused text messages to reassure a sleepless heart that’s in turmoil. These things communicate love and create powerful, life-long bonds between believers. That’s why I do it. That’s why I get out of bed. That, and (insert obnoxious cliché coffee reference here).
CHRIS: So, as a follow up question: What has been the biggest surprise in doing Youth Ministry?
JORDAN: The biggest surprise for me has been how much selflessness it takes. Pride and self-righteousness are instinctive, but it requires an entire re-wiring of your head to do ministry from a humble heart. Seeing trash in my yard or on the church lawn from teens or knowing something has broken in my house can ignite the pilot light of fury in me. Blame my red hair or my preacher’s kid status, but when I see a crushed soda can in my front yard my skull usually expands due to pressure. In those moments, though, God always manages to gently slap me across the face, which lets all of the frustration and hot air dissipate in a half second with this simple truth: None of this belongs to me. Nothing. Not even my own body. I am a steward of God’s manifold grace. I am to be a servant. I am to be selfless and give of myself for the sake of Christ Who, having nothing, gave everything. I’ll teach the teens about discipline and respecting others and their property, but I shall not let the status of my stuff or my pride interrupt the work of the gospel in their hearts. This physical stuff is all temporary. The working out of the gospel in teens’ hearts is what will have eternal results. This selfless aspect of ministry is manifested in how you deal with situations that arise with the youth. Privately, youth pastors can sometimes be short-fused and ready to swing the gavel of justice down on some rebellious teens, but grace is SO much louder than judgment. We don’t ignore sin—no, sir. We address it publicly in sermons and privately in confrontation, but I know from experience and Scripture that the self-righteous anger of a youth pastor availeth little. A selfless servant who operates out of grace is what we ought to be striving to be in youth ministry.