I realized quite some time ago that adults are generally afraid of being around teens. Whether I’m trying to recruit someone to volunteer in youth ministry or just having a conversation with someone about what I do, so often some form of the question comes up: What’s the worst thing about being a Youth Pastor?
It’s such a loaded question.
Sometimes they’re wanting their fears confirmed. Sometimes they’re wanting to see what I’d gripe about. Other times they’re just wanting a good story.
I think my honest response catches alot of people off guard.
They think maybe I’ll say something about kids being crazy. About how hard they can be to manage. How much energy they have versus my general lack of it. How they can be out of control, especially when they’re excited about something, far from home, or a combination of the two.
They think maybe I’ll say something about the hours. Getting called at 2am. Stuck in group texts before school hours. Keeping office hours, plus hosting events, plus church services, plus building relationships. Going to sporting events or plays or concerts or dances or homecoming or competitions. That my ministry is as nonstop as they are.
They think maybe I’ll say something about teenage drama. How worlds fall apart after a breakup. Two seemingly best friends fighting over someone’s attention. Body image, social anxiety, gossiping, or selfishness.
They think maybe I’ll say something about the ugliness of their world. Living life with kids brought up on drugs and alcohol. Parents who are only parents in that they supplied the biological necessities. The culture of casual sex and the consequences that come with it.
They think maybe I’ll say something about “kids these days”. How they can be so selfish. How they live with their faces in a screen. How they seemingly have an honest respect for nothing. They’re entitled, undeserving, or spoiled.
There’s some truth and some lies in all of these. But none of them even come close to what I hate most. Not one of these could even hope to capture the thing about being a youth pastor that I hate most.
This time of year, I scroll through Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. All I see are girls dolled up and guys in tuxes. Two weeks from now, they’ll trade in their prom attire for caps and gowns. Then my feeds are once again nothing but selfies and carefully crafted shots, to show themselves to the world exactly how they want to be seen. And I look at them and think, “This is what I hate most about youth ministry…”
What I hate most about youth ministry is graduation. By far. Nothing even comes close to it. You see these kids, optimistic and hopeful. Looking forward to what lies ahead. And each time I see it, it breaks my heart. I spend years falling in love with these kids. And I love them so much! But I don’t love them because of what they do for me. And I don’t love them because they’re perfect or even easy to handle…
I love them because of the 2am phone calls, when they need a ride home from a party they never should have been at. Because of their crazy energy and the memories that are made on trips. Because I got to see how euphoric they were after the big win or downcast because of the loss. Because they let me walk with them through the image issues and relationship drama. Because I get to be a surrogate father to the ones without. Because they ask me to meet them in the park at midnight after a breakup. Because they show me the respect they have for people who enter their world. Because they hand me the razor and promise not to cut anymore. Because they come to my office, crying over their big regret. Because they looked to me for guidance to heal that relationship. Because they ask for help when they realize their new girlfriend’s dad is super racist. Because they were hungry for more of God’s Spirit and didn’t know what to do. Because they think they can keep it a secret after their last big prank on me. Because I got to see them minister to the mentally disabled. Because we went together to feed the hungry. Because they’ve called me all sorts of inappropriate names. Because they treat my boys like little brothers. Because I get caught in silly, meaningless group texts. Because they introduced me to that friend who thought he could shock me. Because they showed up at my house when their father walked out. Because they called me up when they thought their girlfriend was pregnant. Because they wanted me to tell them how great they were in the play. Because they couldn’t bear to talk about it with their parents alone. Because they finally stepped up and lead. Because they let me in, closer than even many of their closest friends. Because we laughed together and battled together and argued together and goofed together and cried together and overcame together.
What I hate most about being a youth pastor is when I no longer get to be that for them. When they move on and away. This time each year, I get that feeling all over again. Why can’t things just stay the same? Why can’t we all just stay as one? But in the back of my mind, I know that with these students leaving, others will come up. Younger kids who will one day call me in the middle of the night over their own drama. New teens who will need someone to walk with them through the darkness.
And I’ll fall in love all over again.
This is the worst part. This is what I hate. That every year my heart will break all over.
But then every year my heart will grow.
It’s a double edged sword. But I look at it all and I can only thank God. I have the privilege of getting to know so many amazing teens. And when it comes down to it, I am allowed to fall in love with more people than any one person could hope to.
So what I hate most is also what I love most.
Aint that something…