You asked me last spring at a wedding about entering into youth ministry. I gave you a short, but true answer about you need to feel that you are called to that ministry. While I agree with that answer, I think that that serious question deserves a deeper response.
I believe that every Christian is called. We are called by Jesus to follow him and be in relationship with him. Every Christian is also uniquely called to use their talents to serve God and God’s people through the power of the Holy Spirit. A subset of that unique call of every Christian is that for some are called to serve God vocationally. It is not a higher calling, but a peculiar calling. One more thing about call is that it is both long-term and short-term. I believe that there are some people who are called to be in vocational ministry for a season of their life, while others vocational ministry is throughout their entire life. So, you can have a long-term call to be in relational ministry throughout your life, while in the short-term that lives itself out in youth ministry, or you can be a youth minister your whole life.
Where I would start first is seeking what is my long-term call. Ask yourself these questions. What makes me excited to get out of bed? Who do I most relate to? What have people affirmed in me? What are my talents? What inspires me? What energizes me? Who in Scripture have I most related to? What experiences in my life have told me, “no matter what I must continue to do this?” Your long-term call is going to be related to these. For some it will be a specific call: engineer or professor. For others it will be more general: human relations, mathematics, ministry, or business. What you are supposed to be doing will most likely be in this general field.
Next is the short-term call. Ask yourself these questions. What stage in my life am I at? How much responsibility am I ready for? What doors have been open for me? Who do I want to work around and with? What are my gifts and talents? What is energizing me? What are the options within the nature of my long-term call? For example, while I am at seminary I am working at a restaurant. This is a short-term call. I will not be a server forever, but it allows me to use some of my gifts including being in relationship and at times ministry with others, and it helps to provide for my family. I hope that you will ask yourself these questions in your current stage of life.
You told me from your recent ministry experience that you learned you loved Jesus. This is the best possible foundation to build your life upon. Your question today is how can you best love Jesus with your life. Jesus’ life teaches us a few things. We are to live not for ourselves, but for others. Our motive is service and love not selfishness and greed. So, as you consider ministry, you must ask yourself am I doing this for me or am I doing it to serve others. If you are doing it for yourself, then you probably are not ready to answer the call. I have friends here at Seminary who dislike being in Seminary but are getting the education not for themselves, but so that they can serve others. If ministry was just for themselves, they wouldn’t be here.
I’m sure you are aware that youth are a strange breed. Youth directors should also be a strange breed. Youth directors have to walk the fine line of being accessible and hip to a 12 year-old girl and a 17 year-old boy, while at the same time being mature and responsible for their parents to trust you to disciple their kids. This is a fine line that every youth director slips off every once in a while. Being a youth director requires a great deal of energy, something you don’t lack. Being a youth director involves the capacity to be fluent in many languages from High School Musical to Revelation, from the rigors of band practices to why God allows suffering in the world. Being a youth director involves a great deal of personal holiness. I made the failure of ministering out of my emptiness, instead of out of God’s fullness that is ready for me. Serving in ministry is not the same as being in relationship with Christ. This is the most important thing, no matter what profession you enter into, your daily relationship with God. Especially in the ministry, you may be able to get by on your skills and charisma for a while, but for ministry to truly happen, you must allow God to flow through you.
Youth ministry is a roller-coaster ride. It is a job that you don’t just take home with you, but it descends to your dinner table, couch, and even your dreams. Your heart will break. Your heart will rip. A youth who you think has made so much progress will throw it away in one stupid decision. A family might leave the ministry because of some other thing and those months you spent in a relationship will appear to be for naught. Adults will surprise you with their selfishness. These will hurt you, and it’s natural to question if this is worth it. But other times, and oh the joy of the other times, your heart will leap for joy! You will not be able to express the joy of ministry. When someone finally gets it, your heart will leap. When that youth finally opens up and shares her brokenness and receives healing, your heart will leap. When your youth surprise you because of their unselfishness, your heart will leap with joy!
My prayers are with you as you discern God’s will for your life. A few words of practicality before I close. First, understand that sometimes God puts us on one road for the sole purpose of getting to another road. Second, be a volunteer with youth. This is the easiest way to get involved and to get your hands dirty. Third, think about what a youth ministry you would be in charge of would look like. Write it down, have a plan, let God speak through you. This could be a confirmation for your own call. Finally, enjoy the journey. Don’t get discouraged if your purpose seems unclear, but enjoy God guiding you on the narrow way. I hope this helps and may God guide you along the way.
With grace and love,
P.S. Click here to read my sermon for youth directors about the parables of the sower.