From time to time I get emails from people who are just starting out in youth ministry and they are wondering what advice I can give them. There is your standard advice that I give about building relationships, don’t forget about fun, and make sure you have a good relationship with your pastor and adults in your church.
But there is some advice that I think everyone should know going in to this job.
1) You aren’t going to be able to reach everyone: Some people are never going to listen. Some people will turn to God long after you are around and you may never know. Some people may come around for the girls or the party or the whatever, and be around for a while, but then they will walk away.
2) Some people are going to turn away from God and the church because of you: Jesus said to whom much is given much is required. For those of us who give our lives trying to reach out to teenagers much has been given. But that means that much is required of us. You are human. You are going to make mistakes. You are working on the front lines of evangelism with people who are just sort of figuring out who they are. And sooner or later you are going to make a mistake, you are going to let someone down. You are going to screw-up and someone else is going to get hurt because of it.
These two truths are the hardest ones for me to deal with. It still hurts me when a youth who was on fire for God chases after some girl or some group of friends or some vision of their future and totally turns away from God. It still hurts me when the people that I try to reach out to with the gospel don’t even list.
But what hurts me the most are the times when I have messed up. What hurts the most are the mistakes that I have made that have lead students to have a negative view of God.
When you are a youth pastor there are some really amazing successes. Students are vibrant and full of life and when they choose God they can often times choose him in dramatic ways. As a youth pastor you have the awesome privilege of walking beside some really amazing people as they take their first steps to becoming who God created them to be. But all of that comes at the price of knowing that sooner or later, you are going to try to do things on your own, you are going to forget about God’s strength and rely on your own, or you are just going to just out and out forget about him for a moment and do something stupid. And someone’s life will be effected.
This is where you would normally see the BUT clause, the part of the story where the old guys says “but it’s worth it” or “if you have done this take heart because everyone has”. But I don’t have those words to say. Because if you are going to be a youth pastor you have to find a way to live with these two truths.
For me, the best way that I have learned to deal with them seems to be the best way that I know to deal with most things in my life. Simply remembering this: “It’s not about me, it’s all about HIM.” I stop and think and remember that no matter how much I might mess up I am still His child. And as for all those people that it seems like aren’t listening to HIM because of me; I have to remember that He is powerful enough to reach them through me or in spite of me.