A text around midnight….”Joel, I think I’m ready to tell the world I’m gay. What do you think?”
A conversation at an ice-cream shop, “I’m just waiting for my seizures to kill me. There isn’t any hope for me.”
A comment loudly proclaimed to the room during prayer request time, “God doesn’t answer any prayers in my #@$! life, why bother praying now?”
Who Do You Think I Am, Anyway?
These three real-life moments are a few examples of the regular reminder I receive in Youth Ministry: I am not Jesus! Yes, that seems obvious and almost stupid to need to say – but seriously, I’m just….Joel. Yeah, I learned some things about youth ministry, have some great mentors, have had some experience…blah blah blah. But when things get “real,” and I am staring into the eyes of a kid who just poured their heart out and are ready for “Yoda-like” advice, I become mentally aware of some hard truths:
1) I sin. No, you aren’t going to find a murder weapon in my car or see my bank account filled with embezzled money, but..I am just…me. I still struggle at times of making my behavior line up with my beliefs. Though I get the clear difference, it can cause me some distress to tell a kid stop smoking cigarettes when I can’t even seem to stop drinking my cup of coffee.
2) I don’t have all the answers. I can relate to many kids in many circumstances, but there are plenty of situations that feel beyond my experience or “pay grade.” Life isn’t clean or easy, and unfortunately the Bible doesn’t explain every answer of every nuance of every situation. Some things have come up, and I have, honestly, just drawn a blank. ”Oh, right, you have this issue…umm…well…..hmm….that’s tough, huh?”
3) I don’t have it all together. As of July this year, I have been a Christian for 20 years. My relationship with God is the most important thing in my life, and God has not only saved me from eternal Hell but from living a life of destruction and pain. Yet, you can look into my life and see that some things are still hard. The Lord is my Shepherd, but sometimes life feels more like prickly thorn bushes than green pastures.
4) I’m not cool. Yep, I admit it. I don’t listen to the cool bands, I can’t name all the video games, and I haven’t adopted the current youth culture’s language. Because of this, I wonder if I can speak to these kids in a “relevant” enough way to actually make a difference for their life.
So…should I quit?
When staring down the “shotgun” of a hard question…looking into the eyes of a kid who really needs me, my stomach can become instant knots. Seriously – If I’m just “me,” an ordinary Joel who sometimes is just trying to get through the day, what makes it ok for me to be in youth ministry? Can I help kids when I don’t have it all figured out? Who gives me the right to look in a kid’s eyes, and answer that super hard question they just asked?
Yeah, I know, that’s the “easy answer” to everything. But, there is a reason for that – because its true! We can legitimately, seriously, 100% connect to the Creator of the Universe – who specifically says that He has called me – and you — to be a “chosen priesthood.”
Jesus’ death and resurrection is the reason that we can sit with a kid regardless of our “qualifications.”
It isn’t that I have it all together, have all the answers, or wear the right Ray Ban Sunglasses– it is that I am on a journey with Jesus, and He has it all together. He has all the answers.
Being just “some guy” is all Jesus is asking me to be. He loves me (and you!) unconditionally and completely! Yes, we need to continue on the journey and to sin less and have more fruits of the Spirit. We need to let the Holy Spirit give us the grace to be enabled to “do better.”
Yet, Jesus redeems us – period. He said to the delivered man who had been demon-possessed to go and tell people about God’s mercy (Mark 5). He didn’t say, “Now that you don’t have those pesky demons, we need to make sure you say the sinner’s prayer just right, get baptized, take confirmation, get your undergraduate in Bible/Theology, and don’t forget seminary – then you can talk with others.” Of course not.
Are we worthy of it?
Pslam 78:4 – “…We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” The “we” in this verse, basically, means everyone! If you know of the Lord and something praiseworthy or wonderous He has done – we are supposed to tell the next generation!
A staff member sat in my office, crying. She had just been caught in some bad behavior and was being put on a probation. With tears spilling out of her eyes, she said, “Joel, I can’t do youth ministry…I screw up all the time. I don’t have any answers for these kids.”
The truth is, though, she had one of the darkest childhoods I have ever heard of and had risen with Jesus to miraculous heights. Yes, she still struggled, but I told her what I thought that day, “It is important for us to be good examples, but the truth is, I would love it if any kid in our ministry tried to follow Jesus in the way that you do.”
The honor of doing youth ministry isn’t just about our credentials, our moral compass, or our ability to have great answers when hard things come up. We get to pour our lives into kids because Jesus has called us to do it. His calling is the credentials.
Now, spiritual leadership comes with responsibility, which is why that staff member was in my office being put on temporary probation. Next week I will share more about how this fits with calling, and what exactly a youth minister is supposed to be doing, anyway.
For now, let me ask you this – what fear, concern, or….fill in the blank – keeps you from feeling stunted from doing youth ministry?