Youth ministry is a strange combination of competing expectations that others place upon you and that you place upon yourself.
There’s the expectation to build a big youth group, but there’s also the desire to go deep in discipleship with those who are willing and hungry.
There’s a strong need to reach lost students and do whatever it takes to get them interested in spiritual things, but there’s also the awareness that church people will only tolerate so much when it comes to reaching un-churched kids.
There’s the constant pressure from deacons, elders and parents to do a good job taking care of their kids, and there’s the unending feeling that you’re not doing enough at home with your own family.
In 28 years of working with students and those who lead them, the most common conversation I have with youth pastors revolves around their struggle with the desire to really make an eternal, lasting difference in the lives of those entrusted to their care. Yet so many of them, so many of us, feel like it’s just not possible to disciple the handful of kids who are serious about Jesus while being faithful to the command of Christ to “preach the gospel to every creature” and reach kids who don’t know Jesus and don’t even know that Jesus loves them.
I am certainly no expert, but I do have some experience…and based solely on my experience observing the long-term legacies of those leaders that I consider heroes in youth ministry, here is what I’d like to encourage you with today…
Don’t waste the one.
It’s so easy to set our eyes on the big event, the big crowd, the big goal of hitting the big number, that we alienate that one guy or girl in our care that is just dying to do something for God. In our desire to meet all the expectations placed on us we can glance right over that one student who just needs some attention and instruction from us in order to get started in ministry. It’s tempting to think that we just don’t have time to take one student under our wing with all the other responsibilities we have on our shoulders. We convince ourselves that if we take time away from juggling all the daily tasks and putting out all the fires and promoting all the events and mission trips and camp sign ups…to spend an hour with a student showing him how to read a passage of scripture, or how to visit people in the hospital, or how to deal with unbelieving parents, or how to show up early and set up chairs…that somehow that hour would be wasted.
But it wouldn’t be wasted at all. That one student has unimaginable potential. Only God knows what one girl or one guy can accomplish with some coaching, some direction, some instruction. Yet we so often feel like if we can not spend an hour with every single student in our ministry, then we can’t show favoritism by giving anyone our personal, undivided attention. My experience tells me otherwise. Time is never wasted on the one; the one teenager who is willing to work, to learn, to listen, to show up early and stay late and do anything that is asked of them.
You don’t have to sacrifice evangelism or reaching lost kids to do this. You just have to pay attention. Look around your student ministry and ask the Holy Spirit to show you the one that you’ve been overlooking. Seek out the one that seeks out opportunities. The greatest potential may lie in the student that lingers in the corners or the shadows, the one who isn’t very popular or outgoing, the one who has until now lived in relative obscurity. God has always specialized in surprises, like using a stutterer to set His people free from slavery, using a shepherd boy to slay a giant, or using a virgin to give birth to the Messiah. The least likely one may be the very one that can change the world. So in the daily grind of trying to meet all the expectations that you think everyone has of you, stop long enough to notice the one who is waiting on you to show them how to make a difference for the gospel. Time with the one is never was ted.
Header image provided through imcreator.com by Timothy Krause.