Why I'm In Youth Ministry (But Never Planned to Be)
I was never going to be a youth minister. Because of the money, because of the schedule, because of the summers, because of the food, because I had grown up in a youth ministry family and taken a front row seat to the nuances of this ministry life, I was never going to do it myself.
I majored in Organizational Management because I thought I could use youth ministry as a pivot into HR. Years of team meetings in the living room and church planting strategizing around a shared table, living in the house with the perpetually open door in between the high school and middle school, and working shoulder to shoulder with people from all backgrounds on missions trips and internships could surely be translated.
To get experience working with more people, I volunteered to do a year long internship at an international church in a capital city in South America with a missionary family whose picture had long hung on my parents’ fridge. I offered to do anything. When I arrived they said, “Great! We need a youth minister.”
I had forgotten to say that I would do anything but that.
I called the international school I knew one family at, got a sports schedule, and went to every home basketball game. I had gone to middle and high school basketball games every single basketball season in memory. This was life as usual. But in my mind, I always knew it was temporary.
As I taught Sunday school, recruited volunteers, held game nights, and tutored middle schoolers in sanctuary etiquette and how to read a hymnal, my dreams of human resources found application in diplomacy. Most of the kids in my new youth group had parents who worked in the Embassy, and I asked their parents enough questions to discover that I could work in the Consular Office as a Foreign Service Officer. This was the new plan. My path to greatness and fulfillment. My pivot.
Except for one thing: I had grown to love the teenagers in the city.
I found myself constantly thinking about how to present the story of Jesus to sixth graders who hadn’t heard, how to structure family events to for discipleship, what we could play at the next game night, and how to nurture leadership within the students themselves. I began to be let into the student’s world and stories. They never asked me for advice, but they asked all the time for me to help them make memories together for the time they overlapped in the city.
I began to see my role as strategic: for a short time, students from everywhere converged in this city. My role was to help a church see, embrace and equip them before their next move. I became an advocate, blogging, taking and posting pictures, showing up at council meetings, moving kids to the front row of the sanctuary instead of the back.
I felt subversive and purposeful and I was experiencing more and different joy than any other point of my life. I realized then I would have to give all of this up for “a real job” where I could “make my fortune”.
What a crisis of choice.
For months I prayed, journaled, and talked angstily about it, the choice boiling down to the kids or the career. My self-importance and self-fulfillment or self-abandonment. My vanity and hopes of adventure or life as usual. Surely I wouldn’t be asked to do the thing I always thought I would leave! Surely I wouldn’t find myself wanting and longing to do that thing.
Though when I finally said, “Ok” — not even yes, but ok — it had an edge of disappointment for all the ways in which I would never now be grand, it is in this ordinary youth ministry life that I see Jesus in the people he so tenderly loves: his teenagers in every corner of the city. It is a privilege and honor to tell the story, structure some of the memories, and go to the basketball games for yet another season.
This is how I unearthed my calling. Reluctantly, temporarily, through wrestling, through action, through joy. May the same happen for you.