Youth ministry is a wild ride. Next month will mark ten years of full time youth ministry – it’s hard to believe it’s gone by so fast! It’s full of highs and lows, frustrations and celebrations, joy and heartache.
The other week I had an intense fifteen minutes. It was the end of the day, I was watching the opening of the Simply Youth Ministry conference (they were streaming it live online), wishing I was there. A lot of my youth ministry friends and peers were there and it would have been a blast to be with them!
Anyway, the Skit Guys were performing their skit ‘The Chair,’ an incredible ode to youth pastors that always moves me. I actually always get nostalgic watching it because a few years ago I saw them perform it live at a Youth Specialties conference, and one of my former students who was studying to be a youth pastor was triggered by the skit to come and give me the most incredible thank you for the influence I had in his life as a youth pastor – it was one of the highlights of my time in ministry thus far.
The skit finished, I was overwhelmed with memories, wondering if I really begin to measure up to the values laid out in the skit when my phone rang. It was a mob of middle school kids hanging out together on a Friday night deciding to prank call their youth pastor! For the next few minutes they were all passing around the phone, laughing, teasing me, making goofy jokes … I totally felt loved! As bizarre as it might sound (other youth workers get it!), being prank called was totally an affirmation.
I got off the phone, popped open Facebook, and my heart sank. The status of a former student was about her friend, a fringe kid at my old group, who is now barely an adult and had just been arrested for shooting and killing someone. It was heart breaking. I hardly knew the teen, he had come to a handful of events with his friends that were more plugged in. Immediately I was slammed with doubts – could I have done more? Is there something I could have done that would have changed the course of his life? Logically, I know there wasn’t – that I had done what I could, but that didn’t stop me from struggling with guilt and the ‘what ifs’. I can’t begin to imagine what the future holds for him now.
There’s nothing easy about working with teens. It’s not practice for becoming a ‘real pastor.’ But it’s definitely where God has wired my heart.
EDIT: I just saw an update in the news; he told the police he was joking around with his friend with the shotgun, he thought it wasn’t loaded when he pulled the trigger. He’s being charged with manslaughter.