When it comes to youth ministry, there are some things that are inevitable. For example:
Singing “BEHOLD HE COMES! RIDING ON THE CLOUDS! SHINING LIKE THE SUN! AT THE TRUMPET CALL” more times than you care to remember.
Playing some pretty dangerous youth games. You know the ones..(bonkers, mix the fruit basket, just to name a few)..and I’m still convinced I got a concussion from that fruit basket game.
Staying up late late with campers, then waking up to them crowded around your bed debating loudly if they should wake you.
Pulling one for the team by being drop in a dunk tank, pranked with gel and mousse at 3am, and getting ice poured into your shower.
Dressing up in some of the craziest costumes that can only be described as an old lady cross-dressing with a shiny, metallic clown from the 60’s.
Memorizing skits in 10 minutes, acted like a fool on stage, and singing your little heart out even if you’re tone deaf.
Turning pop culture songs into catchy pneumonic devices to memorize bible verses.
My friends, I’m delighted to say I’ve done it all. Not only that, but it’s been some of the best times of my life! I wouldn’t trade these memories for anything and I think any youth counselor, leader, or volunteer would agree. Youth ministry in any form is rewarding, challenging, and exciting in so many ways. There’s nothing I’d rather do.
Lately I find myself thinking about my former (and current) kiddos/campers/teens a lot. Each kid has left a major imprint on my life in some way. I still pray for them, think about them and wonder what they’re up to nowadays.
I think they’re awesome. And every youth leader I know would say the same about the kids they work with. but lately I can’t help but wonder: do they know we think they’re awesome? I doubt it. And that makes me sad.
So to every single camper, kiddo, and teen in a youth group, on behalf of all youth leaders…this is for you.
You make life fun.
It may seem like we’re “sooo old” but honestly, we’re just kids at heart. And you give us an excuse to be that way! Youth group is fun; all the summer trips, day-long outings, holiday parties…heck, you get to have more fun than we do. The older you get, the less acceptable it is to have a shaving cream war and a slip-in-slide contest. Once you have a salary-based job, that lifestyle is kind of frowned upon. But thanks to you guys, you bring out the kid in us. And we love it.
We actually want to hang out with you.
I know, crazy right? Believe it or not, us youth leaders actually like hanging out with you. I have met some of the coolest girls the past few years, and meeting up with them on a weekly basis was something I looked forward. I think they assume I’m too cool for them or would have better things to do with my time. But rest assured that I have enjoyed the holiday parties, the long chats about future husbands, the frozen yogurt adventures, the cabin bonding games, the Saturday youth events, the “let’s skip church and go to Four Queens” nights, and the many heart-to-hearts. From trying on prom dresses, to supporting you in your sports, to hearing you vent about life; honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
You leave a mark on our lives.
I still recall conversations I’ve had with you from years ago. I remember when you opened up about your deepest, scariest secret. I remember when you shared with me how you really feel about God. I remember when you cried over the abuse you were experiencing. I remember when you bravely told me that you were cutting to numb the pain. I remember when you asked for prayer because you couldn’t feel God in the midst of the pain. I remember praying over you for healing. I remember your faces. I remember our conversations. I remember you all. You will never leave me. You guys have become a part of my life and I think of you often. If there’s anything you take away from this, remember that you don’t go unnoticed and you are not forgotten.
We love to celebrate with you.
When I was a camp counselor at Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp, we would have morning staff meetings where we could talk about everything from the crazy things campers said (yes, we spilled the beans), to the amazingly moving God-moments we experienced with you. Every step toward faith you made was a big deal to us. We loved seeing God work in your lives and it was an honor for us to celebrate with you.
You can drive us crazy at times but there’s nothing we’d rather be doing.
Oh I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed every single minute as a camp counselor. It was hard to be “on my game” at all times. I would try to put on a good face for my group of 9th graders, but I was still exhausted from staying up all night with my 5th graders the week before. From skit practice to kitchen duty to cabin clean up..it was all I could do to keep from crying at times. Summer of 2012 was a summer full of kids all day every day. No peace and quiet. No more than an hour off a day. The whole summer was pretty hectic. But I can honestly tell you that that summer was the best time of my life.
Even though I was exhausted and spiritually worn down, I wanted nothing more than to invest in your lives. Some times were harder than others, but don’t take that offensively. Sometimes you gotta give us a break because as much as we’d like to be fully there for you, our minds are running off with millions of obligations and the only thing fueling us is heavy amounts of caffeine from a crappy coffee machine. But remember this: we love you guys..we just need a little grace at times.
Speaking of grace, we don’t always know the answers.
As much as we hate to admit it, we don’t know everything. We don’t understand why God does what He does. We don’t understand His timing any more than you do. The Bible is full of information we have yet to read and our small minds can only comprehend so much about God. It’s hard for us to give the right answers all the time, and we really take it personally when we can’t. It’s easy to make youth leaders into “idols”, expecting every word from our mouths to be perfectly wise and riddled with humility and biblical truth. I wish that was true, but it’s not. What we can do is speak truth into your life the best we know how and be there for you when you need us.
We’ve been there.
I can tell you with certainty that your youth leader has been through the fire. Behind each seemingly perfect, confident, got-it-all-together leader is a story riddled with imperfection. We’ve had relationship drama, mistakes we wish we hadn’t made, addictions we’ve had to break, guilt and shame from our past, secrets we’d like to keep hidden, and problems we don’t want to deal with. So we get it. We understand and empathize with where you’re coming from.
The last thing we want is for you to feel isolated because that’s one of the devil’s biggest lies. He tries to get you alone because you’re weaker on your own than with an army of believers supporting you and lifting you up. We want to be there for you and help you so that maybe, just maybe, you won’t make the same mistakes we did. Next time you feel like you can’t tell us something..give us a try. You might be surprised.
We want you to “get it”.
Oh how badly we want you to “get it”. How badly we want you to get who God is, what He has done, and what it means for you. We want you to get it because we have experienced it ourselves! We know of His saving power to give us victory in the name of Jesus. We want you to live a life of freedom and experience the fullness of God’s glory. Because of this, we’ll do anything for you to “get it”. If that means we have to sing crazy songs, act like fools on stage, and jump around like idiots just to get you excited, we will. We will stay up all night, pray all day, go to weekly youth events, give up our free time, attend your sporting events, and take you on Mission trips because we believe this God, who is passionately pursuing your heart, is totally worth it. Your soul, your freedom, your relationship with god; it’s that important to us.
So to all my former/current youth group kids, all my cabin kiddos, all the little tikes I saw every Wednesday for 3 years…know that you are loved, cared for, and desired by a God who is passionately pursuing you. And it’s been the best honor of my life to be a part of your story.