Sunday, September 19, 2010

Real Ministry

A while ago, I applied at a place to do something I have wanted to do for many years. I don't want to say what the place was or what it was for, because I don't want to sound like I'm badmouthing some place or some people in particular. What I'm bad mouthing is an ideology.

The reply came back from this place that they appreciated that I was interested, and they were sure I would do/am doing great things in youth ministry, but that they didn't see me as a good fit for what they were looking to do.

Now, this thing I was applying for is ministry related, but it is not youth ministry focused. And, while I think I do a good job in youth ministry and have quite a bit of experience in that area, I don't think that disqualifies me from doing well in other areas.

It seems to me that there is this idea that youth ministry doesn't always qualify as "real" ministry. It's those backhanded compliments given to youth directors, asking them when they are going to become a pastor and do real ministry. Or questioning a person's call to ordination because they feel called to focus on youth ministry. Or thinking that someone wouldn't be good at doing something because they have a lot of experience in youth ministry.

Youth ministry IS real ministry. In youth ministry you deal with the same kinds of things that you deal with in every other kind of ministry. There is joy and celebration, there is frustration and disappointment, there is healthiness and new life, there is sickness and death. But, throw into that mix all sorts of other things like hormones, drama, teen age relationships, acne, junior high girls... and there's quite a bit more that comes with youth ministry.

I think we can discount the kind of ministry that happens with young people. We don't see it as real or important, just like we don't think that young people are an important part of our church today. At least that's the message we send when we tell them they are "the future of our church." They are here now, and they are looking to be engaged in ministry, and they need people to walk alongside them and work with them and advocate for them. And that IS real ministry.

So I wanted to write a letter to this place and tell them that they really missed out. That, by overlooking my other gifts and seeing only those that they saw as dealing with youth ministry, they were depriving themselves of the opportunity to get to know me and to see the ways we could have been mutually blessed.

That's what we do when we overlook our young people. We miss out on a great opportunity to get to know some amazing people. We miss out on the opportunity to have them plugged in and engaged in the life and ministry of our congregations. We miss out on the opportunity to lift them up and encourage them to use their gifts and to recognize and celebrate the ways they already are. We miss out on the opportunity to acknowledge them as children of God.

Children of God are important no matter what their age. Ministry is valid and real regardless of what age group it encompasses. We all lose out when we don't acknowledge this.


  1. Amen! I love that it sounds like you want to move to the next thing, but stay focused in youth ministry. It's hard, and not lots of places "get it", but it can be done.

    Blessings and peace as you move forward!

  2. Couldn't have said it better myself, and I've tried over the years. What I find amusing about the attitudes upon which you are commenting is that much of what the emergent/emerging church looks like is what my youth ministry looked like 20 years ago! Youth are often more genuine, more honest, and more willing as disciples. Something that, for most, gets lost as we age. What if church council members approached ministry with the same call to earnestness to which youth hold youth ministry professionals?

    Again, well stated Mark. Their loss, if you ask me.

  3. When I was doing my final seminary interview in front of the two professors, I told them that I wanted to focus on youth ministry first. Both said to me the same exact thing "Don't do that, you will never be respected as a pastor." Ignoring their advice, I jumped into a position as a Youth and Family pastor, I actually did most of the ministry there, but that is another topic. A few other pastors asked me, when I was going to be a "real" pastor. Parents sometimes asked me, "when are you going to move on?" It is sad how we view youth ministry and youth ministers. I am now a solo pastor and I will say that the perception changed almost overnight in our local ministerium. More people started talking to me, it was very strange.
    Youth ministry is such an important part of churches and will help build leaders. I for one thank you for what you are doing!

  4. Amen indeed. Youth ARE the church just as much as any other age group. Thanks for the wonderful post.