Lately I’ve been remembering my first couple years as a full time youth pastor. Memories keep floating back, past successes and failures. This coming April will mark ten years in full time ministry as a youth pastor – for those of you wondering, as far as I can tell, this is my life calling. I don’t see myself doing anything else other than some form of student ministry in the decades to come.
It’s funny to me because in some ways I have changed drastically as a minister in the last decade, and in other ways I am the same. Philosophically, I haven’t changed much at all. When studying youth ministry at Gordon College and the different models of ministry, long before I knew Saddleback or Doug Fields was a big deal, his book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry jumped out at me as the model that fit my wiring the best. It just made sense to me and resonated with how I approach ministry and the church in general. I loved the idea of five basic purposes behind what we do (worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and service) and using them as a checkpoint for evaluating the balance of our ministry. Ten years later, I’m still in that mode. Even more so in that it saturates our annual teaching plan and small group curriculum, and it’s the language I use in giving leaders the purpose behind each event or program. For example, small groups is all about discipleship and fellowship while an all nighter is all creating an opportunity for evangelism. If anything, the last decade has only confirmed that that approach is how God has shaped me for ministry.
On the other hand, there are areas I’ve changed tremendously. I think I’ve calmed down in a lot of ways; I used to get so frustrated when I would teach a lesson or challenge students with something only to see very little or no change in their lives at all. Somewhere along the journey I started to notice those passages where God would spend decades, or even centuries teaching His followers His truth and realized my expectation that teens would get it in hours or weeks was unrealistic at best, and potentially damaging in the worst situations when my unrealistic expectations left a student feeling like a failure. Spiritual maturity takes time, and while there is an urgency for getting the message out (evangelism), discipleship is a lifelong endeavor and my patience with that process has grown.
I’m quicker to speak up, I’ve learned from some of my mistakes and recognize the warning flags a little better than I used to, I still love to learn and grow, and I still find some of my greatest joys and excitements in student ministry. Having kids has changed my perspective in many ways; I was never reckless, but I am more sensitive to parents than I was a decade ago. I get it now – it’s a huge trust to let someone else take my kids on events, teach them, mentor them. In just a few years I’ll be my son’s youth pastor – I still haven’t totally wrapped my mind around that concept yet. I’m sure it will change my attitude even more.