It’s my most despondent month in ministry. It’s the month where all of my critical self-assessment of our ministry comes to a head. It’s the end of the school year, which stumble-starts (in our community) a downturn in participation through the summer. Worse, another group of seniors is headed for the door, so you have to deal with that.
The seniors. Living testimonies to your failure as a leader. Forget for a moment the 400 different opinions about how you ruined senior Sunday. In your heart you know that you didn’t do enough in their lives. You had these kids in your care for X number of years and just look at them. Completely unprepared for life. Infants in discipleship that can’t quite feed themselves yet. But that’s all you get with them; tomorrow that infancy hits the street of “real life” which, statistically speaking, will erase your influence from most of them anyway. Sure, there are one or two that seem to have a grasp on things that really matter. But that’s easily chalked up to the quality of the individual; no point in taking credit for them. Freaking May.
So for most of May I avoid human contact whenever possible. The first week of June I get to go on a mission trip and that usually evens me out and I get approachable again. But last night at a vespers service in Chattanooga, my mind rabbit-trailed from a sermon’s main point to this ray of light:
Jesus was a terrible youth minister too.
I mean, they weren’t youth he was dealing with, because youth hadn’t been invented yet. Kids became adults back then in what is now middle school and didn’t have the opportunity to hipster-whine their way into their late 20s. (I just saved you a semester on adolescent development.) Jesus spent three years with his disciples, about twice as long as the average youth minister sticks around. And after 4 canonized Gospels of miracles, parables, small groups, betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and reappearance over the following 40 days his disciples high-five him and in a single question prove that they’ve learned nothing:
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
“Idiots. And now I have to leave,” had to run through Jesus’ mind. All of that effort and they still thought he was here to overthrow Rome. All of that example and they still didn’t get that his was a kingdom of love. “Alright, guys. Let’s make sure we’ve got our pics turned in for the disciple slide show.” It was probably nice, apart from the betrayal and crucifixion bit, not to have to deal with the accusing stares of a finance committee just before the ascension. “Jesus, you’ve been with these guys for three years and we’re just not seeing the results we were hoping for. Not sure if you’re a good fit for the direction we’re headed.”
It’s easy to forget that in youth ministry we’re not usually end-gamers. We’re launchers. And if we’re really honest–we’re mostly observers. There are certainly ministries that exist as primary spiritual influences in the lives of youth, but for most of the middle-class mainstream youth ministry that goes on we’re supplementing what spiritual development goes on at home. I think this is why I don’t enjoy particularly enjoy ceremony or marking occasions (apart from in general being a grumpy jackass). Nothing is really ever complete; we’re always moving forward. Particularly in Christian living, there is always a “next thing.” A next wonderful opportunity to live in service to others. Another opportunity to meet God in community.
But at the end, the disciples got it. After Jesus left, they grew. This time they didn’t go back to fishing.
So while we may not always get to see the fruit, let me encourage you in your planting, tending, and watering. You get glimmers here and there; maybe see a bloom or two or shoots of new growth. And don’t forget that those in your care are on individual journeys; they’ll be making decisions beyond your influence. Be present. Be faithful. And remember that June is coming. The clatter of rising 6th graders is at the door.