Today is my three year anniversary as youth pastor at Downey First Christian Church. In all honesty, I can say the past three years have been an incredible journey. I decided to blog today about what I’ve learned over these past years.
I think we grow up thinking differently about time. When you’re younger, life goes by slowly, and then suddenly, all of that changes after high school. It’s weird. I’m sure people have theories about this that are very scientific. I don’t. I just think after a certain age we start to realize how short life really is. Anyways, looking back at the past three years, I am still a little dumbfounded and even at a loss for words, at where the time went. It’s actually sort of amusing. If you would have asked me three years ago about my thoughts on time and minsitry, and if three years was a sufficient amount of time, I would have answered “Absolutely.” I was dead wrong. It’s taken three years to break into the culture. It’s taken three years to truly build relationships. Three years is not a sufficient amount of time. This is both a scary and exciting thought. Ministry takes time, and it’s important to take your time when starting out.
I think my idea of what ministry success is has changed as well. I’m pretty sure most of us go into youth ministry with a grand vision and a copy of Purpose Driven Youth Ministry in our hands, and we think we can change the world. Then we begin to realize that every church is different, purpose statements are catchy but don’t produce miracles, and to be frank, ministry can suck some times. (Yeppers, it can) I’ve noticed there are a lot of comparisons made in youth ministry and ministry in general. What was your attendance last Sunday? How many students do you have in your high school group? Then, of course, we all use our numbers to boast and point to our ministry’s effectiveness. Regardless of numbers though, I’ve started to realize that true success in ministry is about relationships. It’s about creating a culture where people find intimacy with Christ and one another, where outsiders feel welcomed to come and explore the message of Jesus. If this can happen in a group of a hundred kids, awesome. Way to go for having that big of a group and shepherding them in discipleship. If it happens in a group of ten kids, kudos once again. You can’t let numbers be the only way to measure success. There are a lot of big churches out there that are doing incredible things in the kingdom. Likewise, there are a number of them who act like they’re hosting the Teen Choice Awards, and Jesus is an afterthought. In our ministries we need to help students live the way of Jesus—feed the poor, welcome in the outsider, and change our world in whatever ways we can.
This has been the most fun lesson I’ve learned—the art of facing opposition. Truth be told, it’s definitely tough at first, but then it kind of grows on you. You learn to take criticism, disrespect, and realize you’re still okay with yourself and your vision for the ministry. I know I sill have that “I need everybody to like me” syndrome, but still, I am able to function when people don’t like me. Moreover, I am able to serve them and show kindness even when they are manipulative and demeaning. (Okay, so it still stings a little bit, but come on, there is real progress here!) No matter what, every person in ministry is going to face some kind of opposition. It might be a parent who thinks you’re the antichrist, or a volunteer who has sworn herself to annihilate you within your first three months of ministry. Awe, the list could go on and on. But none of that really matters. Opposition is natural. You learn to roll with the punches and you come out a better leader and more mature person because of it.
Group trends and changes
Youth groups change over time. It seems like with every graduating class, you see certain attitudes and behaviors leave the group—sometimes this is bad and sometimes it’s great! There may be months where you have a lot of new kids coming around. Other times, you wonder if students have friends outside of the church. There are seasons when girls outnumber the guys and times when the guys seem to run the girls out of town. Youth groups, like all things in life, have trends and are constantly changing. I’ve celebrated with our youth group as attendance soared, and new people came to faith. I’ve also embraced our committed students when they were the only ones who decided to join a small group. Change is natural…and it’s a good thing. Churches change over time, and usually this means a youth group will change as well. It’s all part of the process. You have to remain positive and continue pursuing your vision, even when everything feels like it may be falling apart. Realize its part of the change process.
Finally, after three years I’ve learned that I’m not Bill Hybels. (And that’s a good thing because that guy kind of annoys me at times.) But that’s okay, because I’ve surrounded myself with a team of incredibly talented and dedicated adults who love hanging out with teenagers and spending time with one another. I couldn’t have asked for more: I get to do ministry with my friends. A youth group or church for that matter should never be about a single person, giving a star performance. A church should be a community, a family that wants to seek God and life together. That is beginning to happen in my youth group. It’s taken three years to get to this point. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worth it.
God is good
Looking back over the past three years, I can genuinely say this has been a good ride and I’m excited for more. We’ve started a movement. It’s not a movement of thousands, or even of hundreds. Nevertheless, it is a family of people wanting more of Jesus in their lives, and desiring to see his kingdom built on this earth. There have been moments where I’ve doubted God, and even more moments where I’ve doubted myself. However, even in these moments of confusion, God has been faithful. This life and this thing called ministry…well, it’s all good because God is good. He continues to surprise me and fulfill His promises. I pray for many more years of exciting ministry, partnering with the Spirit and seeking His direction. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of ministry, we need to remember that at the end of the day, God is still God…and He is always good.