The Joys of Youth Ministry

We’ve been discussing the challenges that we face in youth ministry and ways we can overcome those challenges. This week, let’s make a shift and talk about the JOYS of youth ministry.
What are the JOYS of working/volunteering in youth ministry?
Jacob Youmans, director of the DCE program at Concordia University Texas answers:
The light bulb coming on inside of a young person as they realize who Jesus is and what they have done for them is by far the greatest joy in youth ministry. As one teenager told me one time, “If this Jesus stuff is real than it changes everything!”

A close second would be the privilege of watching them “grow up.” Participating in their weddings, baptizing their children, and watching them pass down their faith to their children. I have always enjoyed watching former students go into ministry — either as a profession or as a volunteer. Again, showing them the unconditional love that exists in a life-long relationship. There is nothing quite like watching the circle of life!

A very close third would be watching them become the hands and feet of Jesus. Watching them feed the hungry, house the homeless, share Jesus’ hope with the hopeless. Watching them realize that they can change the world!

I have a former student with whom I had to do two very difficult family interventions. The first was when, as a sophomore in high school, he decided that it would be funny to use the restroom out in the open at a public beach, and then got out a lighter and attempted to light it on fire! You can imagine how the intervention with the family went over that issue.

I tried so hard not to give up on this student. I just knew that he was craving attention and I was determined to give it to him in as healthy a way possible.

Two years later, as a senior in high school, I had to do another family intervention with him because he felt called by God to be a missionary in Africa and his parents were terrified of him going so far away from home! After an hour or so of family discussion, I paused the conversation and reminded them of the last time we all had to meet and that we had cause to celebrate the transformation God had done in his life! He did end up going to serve for six months in Africa–with the support of his family. And now he’s going to school to prepare to be a full time missionary. It’s those kind of life transformations that really get to the heart of what youth ministry could and should be!
Leah Abel, DCE at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Oviedo, Florida, answers:
The joys of youth ministry are too many to count!  Because teenagers are hungry for genuine relationships, students get what it means to be the Church.  They share the common struggles of middle and high school so they are able to relate to one another’s worlds.  In a healthy youth ministry, students share more openly with one another than most adults would dare to. They pray together.  They play together.  They bring their friends.  They read and discuss God’s Word together.  The spend entire weeks eating, sleeping, and serving together on mission trips.  They seek out spiritual mentors and as they grow they become role models for younger students.

Another great joy of youth ministry is to hear them sing.  I LOVE it when they sing.  It may be the loud roaring wall of sound in the Superdome as kids sing and rock out or a small circle on the floor of a retreat center where 10 kids beg to sit and sing just one more song. Whatever the setting, I revel in these moments of hearing them sing words of truth and words that confess the hope that we have in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I also love that those songs get stuck in their heads, thanks to a catchy melody, and they find themselves singing those words to themselves as they sit in first period algebra on Thursday morning.

The greatest joy of all is to look at their faces and to imagine that some day we will be together at the throne of Christ; with all of the hurts, questions, obstacles, and labels (not simply forgotten) but transformed into eternal sources of joy. On that day we will rejoice together — singing praises to His name — as we marvel at how He really did work out all things for our good. That future joy is what keeps me going in the present — especially on the days when the challenges seem too great to overcome.

Steve Meyer, a civil engineer who volunteers with the senior high youth at Timothy Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri, answers:
The joys occur when you do connect, you see the difference, and you see them growing. In the short term, you may not see the small incremental changes, but after a few years, you get a chance to see a timid freshman grow up to be a confident senior. At times, it’s one of the youth making a profound statement in Bible study, showing that they really do get it, and you know that the Holy Spirit is working in them. At other times, it’s a successful youth-led service or fundraiser that serves the congregation, and members come up to you afterwards and say how much they appreciate your work and enjoy seeing the youth take on responsibility. And sometimes it’s a parent saying thanks for looking out for their kid caring about them; they’ve been having problems at home, but the youth group is a safe place for them.
There are many hardships and many joys in youth ministry. From the outside looking in, it looks like a lot of work with very little reward. But from the inside, it’s being a friend and a mentor to some really awesome young people, and helping them to develop into the adult God wants them to be. And while teaching them, you learn a few things for and about yourself along the way.
Share your JOY story below!

Published October 29, 2010

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