I’ve groused here and other places about how much I hate the month of May in youth ministry for all the fuss and bother of honoring seniors and all of the vocational guilt and sense of loss that comes along (for me, at least) with graduates that didn’t turn out like you’d hoped or ones that did. We’re not quite in there emotionally like parents, but if you manage to stick around a youth ministry for more than three years, the goodbyes in May get a little harder.
Anyway. So I’m riding from Richard’s Restaurant (my food office) back to my regular office at the church with my kids. In one of the door pockets my older son (7) finds a graduation invitation from Demi, one of my recent grads. I had it in my car because her address was on it and I needed it to get to her graduation party. Like many things that enter my car, it had never left. Demi’s invite is one of those testimonies to what marketing has done to allow families to overspend on their graduate in every possible way. No name card wedged into embossed stock paper here; her’s was a custom paper tri-fold gallery of photos of Demi from early childhood to present. Honestly, the company could use her invitation as a sales model. She’s very photogenic and her invitation read like a feel-good movie where America wins at the end. You almost forget there’s a graduation involved.
So Grey (my son) digs it out of the side pocket of my door and reads it to Penner, my younger son (5). After he was done with all of the words, he went back through for a commentary run on the pictures. “Look, Penner. Here’s Demi when she was such a pretty little girl. And here’s Demi when she was a bigger little girl… and here’s Demi when she looks like she looks right now.” There was a pause; I glanced up to see them each holding a side of the card, studying her senior picture. Grey looked up at Penner and then back at the card. “What do you think she’s going to look like next, Penner?”
Exactly. That’s youth ministry summed up. From day to day, what are our youth going to look like next? And if I can, I’m going to learn to live in ministry with the pure wonder and curiosity of my son’s question about Demi: what will they look like next? We spend a lot of time trying to influence that, but I don’t know that’s where our time is best spent. We can bump, nudge & cajole our kids in the direction that we think is right, but at the end of the day, it’s not really our journey. It’s theirs. So it doesn’t matter how much we feel like we should beat ourselves up or pat ourselves on the back for how they turned out because a) that was their work, not ours and b) they’re not remotely done yet. I’ve had youth that exited as shining examples of discipleship turn up a few years later struggling through substance abuse and dependency and others exit with drinking problems that a few years later turn up as vibrant Christian leaders. We’ve got to (or at least I’ve got to; you may have this down already) learn to come alongside, equip, and encourage our youth instead of trying to sum them up at 18 based on our own criteria for success. You can’t teach to the test in Christian living. And even if you could, you probably shouldn’t.
Let’s walk with them.