Reflections on Youth Ministry and Dropping My Son Off at College

This blog post, by me, originally appeared on the Download Youth Ministry blog.

A few weeks ago my wife Heather and I drove away from the university campus we had just left our second son at, tears on both our faces, making the long drive home. Weren’t we just changing his diapers? Our football lineman was once so small.

I’m so thankful to be a youth pastor.

My wife and I jumped into full time ministry 21 years ago as newlyweds. We had our first of four sons three days before our first anniversary. The youth group called him “Cletus the Fetus.” Heather wasn’t as impressed as I was with their baby naming skills. Having my own children move through our student ministry has been an eye-opening and perspective changing experience for me. For a brief moment, all four of them were in our youth group at the same time – now we’re down to just two as the older two have graduated and moved on. Here a just a few reasons I love student ministry as a father and why I think it was so critical for my son we just left at a college too far away:

  • My son loves the church. I couldn’t say the same when I was a teen. In fact, it was right around his age that I swore off faith altogether. I was a pastor’s kid who hated what I had seen and experienced. My wife and I have always had as one of our barometers for health whether our kids like our church – not just the children’s ministry or the student ministry, but the church as a whole.
  • My son has a crew of loving Christian adults in his life. Mama Lin (Willie), Ed, and Figgy (Mike) spent the last seven years as his small group leader, showing up to events, visiting him at his job, and listening to all his stories. Those three men created an environment that built trust, loyalty, and incredible spiritual growth with a group of – what seemed at first to be challenging – Christian young men. There’s Kim, Carl, Melissa, and so many more who also serve in our student ministry. The best part? I got to choose them. I’m the youth pastor. Why do I put so much care into who is a part of our student ministry? How often do we get the opportunity to choose the adults who influence our children?
  • My son knows how to serve, to lead, to study scripture, to have accountability, to find other believers. He’s not perfect. I’m sure there are going to be moments in his college experience I would rather not know about. But I got to plan the seven years of his student ministry; it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and staying in one place for all these years meant I got to see it through from beginning to end. I have seen my son lead worship, I’ve launched him off the blob, I’ve done street evangelism with him in Costa Rica, we’ve fed the homeless together on the border with Mexico, I’ve wrestled and beat him many times … and been beaten by him a few times in recent months.

Youth ministry is a gift. We get to be present during the most transformative time in peoples’ lives. Everything is bigger, everything is exploding, everything is new. And we get to be there. We get to see children go from concrete thinkers emulating their parents to teens processing and making their faith their own. My house is quieter than I would like now, but I feel good about where my son is at, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t imagine not having been his youth pastor!

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