I have often wondered what it would be like to go back 13 years, to my former self in my first years of youth ministry. What I would say to myself might go something like this…
Dude… (long pause with frustrated look), I know what you’re thinking. (Literally.) It is a great feeling to be in ministry, and to be paid for it?!? It’s a crazy thought, and in reality you would do this for free. There is nothing better than serving the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, right? I still feel it now, and I remind myself to keep that feeling from when I was glad just to have the opportunity to lead for the cause of Christ. It is what matters most!
However, on the flip side of that joy is a less-glorified feeling—fear. You are afraid of losing it. You are so thrilled to be in ministry that you fear being out of ministry, and therefore, you are overwhelmed by pressure to not blow it. You are afraid to fail, so much so that you are now sick with the need to please people, whom you believe have control over your destiny. (This, of course, is not true.) Making the pastor, deacons, students, and parents happy has become your default mode, because you feel that with their satisfaction comes your security. Security of job, security of identity. You think everyone is happy because you are “knocking it out of the park” –attendance is up, parents keep applauding effort, and the pastor pats you on the back every chance he gets, both privately and publically.
Only, here comes the problem. After a few years of this, you will begin to notice something: your students who go to college, get jobs, get married, and have kids, will mostly do so without any heart change for Christ. I hope this bothers you! What is the point, and so what if you have security, everyone is happy, and you are doing everything “right,” in fact you are doing it all wrong? You will never make everyone happy, and truth be told, half the time you do not know what you’re doing. However, you can get this one thing right.
Grab a few students and, just as you were discipled, disciple them. Walk with them, pray for them and with them, open their minds and hearts to God’s Word. Grab some parents and begin to get to know them and pray with them as well. Do not assume that your leaders know how to disciple; teach them, so you can expand yourself into them and that they may disciple more students. Lastly, do not just tell students you love them, make sure they know, through your actions, that you love them. Give yourself to personally loving Jesus and to evangelizing and discipling with the students. Let everything else fall where it may. This is how the kingdom of God really defines “knocking it out of the park.”
Oh, and your future wife is awesome, no worries.