Sunday, February 26, 2012

Youth Ministry... Why Bother?

Last weekend, I had the amazing privilege of serving as a leader at Discovery Weekend, our church's big youth ministry weekend retreat. This weekend is the culmination of months of planning--by our senior high leadership team, our dedicated youth ministry staff, Sunday school classes who prepare and serve meals, and countless others who helped out with the weekend in big and small ways. This weekend is among my favorite youth ministry experiences, and every year the hard work pays off. The students (and the adult leaders) leave the weekend feeling refreshed (is it possible to feel refreshed and exhausted at the same time? Because I think that's how the adults actually feel) and spiritually renewed. Every year, the senior high planning team strives to make Discovery Weekend even bigger and better than the previous year--and every year, they succeed!

I am thankful that my job fits in so well with my desire to volunteer with our youth ministry program. As a teacher, I have plenty of time in the summer to go on mission trips and hang out with youth. Even during the school year, I give up a weekend or two for various youth retreats and activities. It's something that I feel called to do, and lucky me, it's something that I love doing.

At work, and even at church occasionally, when someone asks about my weekend plans and I respond by mentioning some upcoming youth event, I am met with interesting responses:
"Good luck with that."
"That ought to be fun."
"Hopefully the canoe trip will get rained out, right?"
"You won't get any sleep."
And of course, I get a lot of raised eyebrows and eye rolls, as if to say, "I feel your pain."

But the funny thing is... none of this is painful. Okay, that's not true. The canoe trip was actually quite painful, and I still have a scar to prove it. But I would gladly canoe every weekend, and tip over multiple times, and scrape my legs on sharp rocks, if it means I would get to spend more time with the amazing students at our church.

Call me crazy, but I love being involved in youth ministry. Yes, I'm just a lowly volunteer, but I give my time willingly and eagerly. I have had some incredible experiences with these students. We roofed a house together, we built a wheelchair ramp, we gutted a kitchen... we have eaten more Jerry's snow cones together than I can count... we jumped curbs in the church van (not on purpose) and pulled clever pranks (I will not admit to any of them). I have supported these youth as they applied for camp counselor jobs, struggled with heartache, and mended broken relationships. In turn, they supported me as I overcame my fear of driving the fifteen-passenger church van, pulled myself out of a spiritual rut, and dealt with heartache and brokenness in my own life. I don't know if they even know how much support they provide, but they have truly blessed me in so many ways.

So, to the people who give me sympathetic looks as I talk about my adventures in youth ministry: y'all don't know what you're missing. Without these youth, I wouldn't know the latest dance moves. I wouldn't know that the coolest people on earth usually come from Mississippi and Alabama. I wouldn't have a love for pocket t-shirts and TOMS shoes. Without these youth, I wouldn't have experienced the presence of God as often as I have. I see God in every one of the students at our church. I love them all, and I wish you knew them so that you could love them too.

To the parents and church members who have thanked us volunteers for spending weekends with these kids: it is truly our pleasure. Truly. I'm not just saying that. No one has to twist our arms when it comes time to volunteer for weekend retreats and mission trips. We LOVE these experiences! We're right in there with the kids, worshiping and learning and sticking clothespins on people's backs. We mean it when we say that we get as much out of Discovery Weekend as the youth do. And we invite you to join us!

So why bother with youth ministry? Because knowing and loving and serving these youth is absolutely one of my greatest joys. Because these students are the future of the church, and it fills me with such hope to see how passionate they are about sharing and living out their faith. Because teenagers are marginalized and disrespected so often, and it is through strong youth ministry programs that students are empowered to find their voices and their callings. What a blessing it is to be part of that!

And that's why.

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