i don’t know if any youth pastors peruse these humble ramblings (mine does but, then, it’s a condition of his employment). if they do, i’d like to help them out. i was a youth pastor for a long time and i learned a LOT. thus, i thought it would be considerate of me (hey, that’s just the way i am) to share some of the things i learned while i was a youth pastor. over the next few days i will share lessons i learned from some of my youth ministry heroes. in some cases, it will be a memorable quote or sermon. in other cases, it will be an example i saw that inspired me. in a sense, this is my tribute to the guys that paved the way for me. i owe them a debt of gratitude i will never be able to repay.
for the other youth ministry “vets” out there, i beg your indulgence. these lessons may seem elementary or even a little tired to you. nevertheless, i vividly remember what it feels like to work for a senior pastor that doesn’t “get” youth ministry. and to be employed by a small church while being possessed of a huge vision. and to feel like you’re struggling against a tsunami while on an island by yourself. so, here you go, intrepid youth pastor. this cliche’ is for you.
one of my earliest and fondest memories is attending the “impact” conferences at southwestern college in waxahachie, texas. i specifically recall 1985, when kile bateman and i drove down from amarillo and shared a room and sat on the very front row of every session. the worship was life-altering, and some of the biggest names in youth ministry were there (like sam farina, dave roever, donny moore, keith elder, gary marrone, and dan buschow. by the way, does anyone remember ric olson?). i remember the session where glen berteau gave his testimony…i laughed until i cried.
the most significant moment for me came in the first general session when dawson mcallister spoke about the future of youth ministry. to me, it seemed kind of scandalous to have a baptist guy at a pentecostal conference, but dawson was on the cutting edge back then, and we were all eager to hear what he had to say. i was sitting in the front row looking straight up at him as he began to preach from matthew 9:35-38. dawson asked how we could hope to do youth ministry without a sense of panic about a generation of teenagers who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” when he finished, i was a quivering puddle in the floor. i was crushed emotionally and challenged spiritually. here is the line that got me…
kids spell love t.i.m.e.
i never forgot the power of that statement, and it guided me when i was confused about how best to conduct my ministry. it doesn’t take a lot of embellishment, but the simple truth is that if you want kids to know you care about them, you have to sit with them and eat with them and see their bedrooms and look them in the eye when they’re talking to you. they have to believe that they are more important than your career or your schedule or your blog or your sermon or the next item on your calendar. stop what you’re doing…sit down with them…give yourself to them.
and thank you, dawson mcallister, for inspiring a generation of youth ministry neophytes.