As a junior high youth pastor for the past three years, sometimes you wonder if you are making a difference. I get discouraged at times and wonder if God is doing anything in my ministry. Am I doing what He is asking me to do? Am I praying enough? Am I doing enough? Being that I pastor a pretty small junior high youth group, about 15 students, I look at the big youth groups and see some of the amazing things they are doing and all the cool things that are happening. Anyone else in this boat? Well, last week was one of those nights that God reminded me, it isn’t about what you do or how you do it, it just matters that you do it. Let me share with you what I mean.
Last week a group of kids got baptized at our church. It was so cool to see what God had been doing in these kids lives and it was even cooler to see that these kids were giving their lives to the Lord at such a young age. But one kid in particular stood out to me. For the sake of privacy, we will call him Ryan. Ryan stood up in front of the church and gave his testimony of how God has changed his life over the past two years. Now I had known Ryan when he was in junior high, in fact I had been his youth pastor for about a year. Ryan was one of those kids who no one really understood or took the time to understand. He got into a lot of trouble both in school and with the law. He did drugs from a young age and was heading down a path of destruction. In Jr. high, Ryan would come to youth group every once in a while, but never was too interested in youth group or the other kids in the group. I tried to include him as best as I could, but never could get him to engage a whole lot with others. As he got caught more and more into the drugs and the sinful nature of it all, the less and less I saw him. His family still came to church and I would get the casual updates on how he was doing.
Fast forward a couple of years. Ryan had just gotten back from drug rehab and our church had just gotten a new high school youth pastor. He wasn’t your stereotypical youth pastor either. He was in his 40s, had two kids and worked another job. But the one thing that he had was passion. When he was charged with taking over the youth group his mission was to go into the house of every family that were attending the church and had a high school student, whether they were coming to youth group or not. This is when he met Ryan and his family. Not knowing who Ryan was he was able to listen and hear about his past from his family. After this meeting the youth pastor had decided that he needed to get to know Ryan more. So instead of trying to push Jesus and the bible on him, all this youth pastor did was love on Ryan. He hung out with him, took him to dinner, had coffee with him. He even found out that Ryan loved to “tag”. Which is a term used to graffiti things. So instead of doing this illegally, the youth pastor invited Ryan to “tag” a sign with him that they could put up in our youth room. Basically, he found ways to create a relationship with Ryan doing things that Ryan liked to do.
Well, fast forward another year, and here we are back to last week. Ryan is up on the podium giving his testimony about how God is changing his life. And he points to our youth pastor as the reason why he is where he is today. Because this youth pastor invested in his life and listened and was patient with him, God was able to move through him and into Ryan. To be perfectly honest, I never saw this day coming. But to sit there and hear the story and to know how everything happened made me so proud of what God was doing in Ryan’s life. But what struck me even more, was a reminder from God. It was a reminder that it isn’t about all the fancy things you can provide for the youth group or being the coolest youth pastor. It was a reminder to INVEST into our youth. Here is a youth pastor who despite having a family, kids and a 40+ hr work week found the time to just hang out with Ryan. He didn’t do anything fancy, didn’t have to crack open the bible or preach to him about Jesus. He just simply invested in him. It reminded me of why I became a junior high youth pastor. When I first took this job three years ago, I knew it wasn’t about the frills and gimmicks, it was about hanging out with kids, listening to them, and by showing you care, let Jesus work through you and in His timing youth will come to know Jesus. But sometimes, I lose sight of that and I need a little reminder to let me know this.
So for those of you that work with youth, have your own kids, and even if you don’t, I challenge you to invest into kids. So many times, we want the “quick fix” with our youth. We want to preach the Gospel to them and have them do Bible studies in the hope that they will get saved right away and then we will have done our job. In my six years of working with kids as a teacher and as a youth pastor, I have come to realize and learn that kids are begging for people to hang out with them, who will take them out to ice cream, coffee, for a walk, anything it takes, as long as you are willing to be with them. We forget as kids all we wanted was an older person to hang out with me and to listen to me to be there for me, someone who I knew who cared, who were still cool enough to hang out with, but yet weren’t my parents.
I know some of you may be thinking “But I don’t have the time!” Neither did this youth pastor, but he found a way. I had a youth pastor tell me years ago, you don’t need to work harder, just smarter. We all have errands to run; call these kids up and have them go with you. You going on a run, take them with you. You don’t always have to find a way to carve out time to be with kids, incorporate them into your daily life. Just think, a teenager being asked to go do errands with you and maybe you get them ice cream while you are doing errands. I can guarantee you every middle school boy or girl in my youth group would take me up on that offer. Yes, investment takes time, it takes patience, it takes perseverance, but as I saw last week when Ryan is standing on the podium getting ready to be baptized by our high school youth pastor, I was reminded that the investment is ALWAYS worth it!!