Why I Stick With Youth Ministry

‘Why I Stick With Youth Ministry’
Do friends wonder why you work with junior highers? Tell them you have five good reasons.

People are always surprised when I tell them I’ve spent several years working with junior highers. They immediately picture rebellious kids bouncing off the walls while planning some new prank to play on their youth leader. Inevitably, they ask: “Why in the world do you work with junior highers?”

I tell them I have five good reasons.

Reason #1: Mandy
“You’re the only friend I have.” I looked at the girl sitting next to me on the beach. While most of the other junior highers were playing in the waves or in the sand, she’d come dejectedly to sit by me.

“Get outta town!” I said, throwing sand in her lap. “You’ve got tons of friends.”

“No, really,” she said. “You’re my only friend left.” Then she explained how Janice and Karen had quit hanging around with her; how Scott was dating Elaine now so neither one had time for anyone else; and how all the other kids in the youth group had some reason for not being her friend.

After listening to her sorrows, I asked, “What about Jesus?”

She stopped to think. Then she said slowly: “Well, I guess he’s still my friend. Maybe I have two friends after all. You know, lately I’ve kind of been treating him the way everyone else has been treating me. Do you think he’ll still be my friend?”

“Yeah, I think he’ll put up with you a little longer.”

She smiled. “Do you think I should keep trying to be friends with Janice and Karen?”

“Do you think Jesus should keep trying to be friends with you?” I asked.

“Okay, I’ll go see if I can find them.” She got up, dumped a bucket of sand on my head and ran off to find the girls.

Later, on the bus it was fun to hear the loud, happy voices of Mandy, Janice, and Karen singing all the way home.

Reason #2: Skippy
“He dribbles, he fakes, he moves to the basket leaving the defender reeling. SCORE! Two points for the Skip-monster. You’re in trouble now, big guy!”

I had to laugh as I watched this undersized junior higher give a running commentary on our one-on-one basketball game. After the game we went inside for a Bible study with a few other guys. It was the same routine we followed each week for a year. First he’d beat me at basketball. Then he’d go inside and amaze me with his biblical insights.

Three years later he was a sophomore in high school. I’d long since moved away and lost contact with him and the other guys in the group. I often wondered if he remembered me.

One March night I sat in my room complaining to my wife about the circumstances of life. As if on cue, the phone rang. It was Skippy.

I asked him the questions I’d always asked him before. “Still loving God? Still studying the Bible? Still involved in the youth group?”

When he answered a hearty yes to each question, I knew I’d done at least one thing right. The year I’d invested in Skippy’s life was still reaping its rewards.

Reason #3: Nicholas
“I like the way I am, but people still give me a hard time at school, and even here at church.”

Nick and I sat in my office talking after a Wednesday-night meeting. “Why do they bother you?”
“The guys think I’m stupid because I want to wait until I get married to have sex. They say I’m gay, or that I just can’t find a girl who’d like me.”

Nicholas was one of the best guys in my youth group. He showed surprising maturity for a junior higher. He was really serious about his relationship with God. It made me angry that some kids in our church would ridicule him because of his stand for sexual purity. I tried to answer calmly.

“How do you think Jesus feels about your decision?” I asked.

“I think it’s what he wants me to do.”

“Sometimes it’s not easy following God, is it?” I said. “No,” he replied. Then, grinning, he quoted one of my catch phrases, ‘But it’s always worth the cost.’ Right?”

“Right!” I said, laughing. “Gonna stick with your convictions even though it’s hard?”

“You know I will,” he said with a smile. “Just don’t forget to pray for me, okay?”

“You can count on it.”

Reason #4: Kathy
“Hey, Mike! Mike!”

I turned to see Kathy running across the parking lot toward me. Breathlessly, she spoke. “Guess what? I’ve been doing a quiet time just like you showed us. I’ve been doing it for a whole week now, and you know what?”

“What? What is it?” I said.

“It really works. You were right. It really makes a difference. I feel closer to God already. Sometimes I’ll catch myself even praying during the day like I do during my quiet time. Thanks for starting this quiet time club!”

With that she bounded away as quickly as she’d come. Three months later she was still practicing a regular quiet time. She’d found a treasure she refused to give up.

Reason #5: Chris—The One That Got Away
“I just don’t know if I can accept everything you’re telling me. I mean, I believe there’s a God and everything, but why should he be so interested in me? If I follow Jesus like you say, that’d mean he’d have total control over my life. I like doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Religion is good for some people, but I’m just not one of them.”

I felt helpless as Chris shook my hand and walked away into the night. Athletic, good-looking, and a natural leader, he’d been coming to our Tuesday night meeting for about a month. This night was the last time I’d ever see him.

I was tempted to feel like a failure as I watched him leave. Instead, I prayed that God would lead him to another youth worker who could finish the job I’d started. Who knows, maybe right now there’s a youth leader who counts Chris as one more reason to work with junior highers, high schoolers, or even college kids.

Mike Nappa is an author who lives in Colorado.

A Reminder to Youth Workers —By MATT TULLOS
When the classrooms are trashed in just one hour;
When your bus overheats, or the engine loses power;
When you answer the phone in the middle of the night
to referee a romantic teenage fight!
When you get the nods on Sunday morning after camp;
When you learn that your budget needs a “revamp”;
When you notice that they, as a practical joke,
took a picture of you without a bathrobe!
When John 3:16 is applied to your car with shoe polish,
and your broken-down truck they nearly demolish;
When three gray-haired ladies give you a glare
because they found some Coke in a chair;
When your keyboard falls out of the back of the bus;
When a kid giving his testimony forgets not to cuss;
When you try to explain how a pig got inside;
When you feel you should crawl under a rock and hide;
When you notice the whispers of deacons near
and thought you heard them say, “He’s still here…”
When an eighth-grader turns green and pukes on your shoes;
When down-and-out-kids give you the blues;
When you’re sweaty, sick, and a little bit grumpy;
When your budget is cut and the pizza is lumpy…
Remember, youth ministry is not pretty.
But when that kid you’ve prayed for every day
accepts Christ and commits to his way;
When they hunger for God and devour his Word,
and in a pagan world their voices are heard;
When you feel the warmth of God’s holy pleasure;
When the memories become a lasting treasure;
When you hit the pillow at midnight or one,
and you know you’ve given your all to God’s son…
Youth ministry is beautiful.