by Philip Jenkins
It brings joy, music, a story from Dickens, and your in-laws (more joy) and it’s not “The Grand Ole Opry.” There’s gift-giving, traditions, and ye olde visions of sugar-plums dancing in the heads of children everywhere (because that’s what children dream about). It’s December the 25th, Christmas Day, a special day that comes once a year. By and large, we love Christmas, or at least the idea of it. Most people wouldn’t argue with that.
But the other day I want to mention brings feelings of stress, a general hatred for receipts, and pretty much leaves you already dreading the inevitable day that you know is coming 364 days from now. It’s April 15th (most years), Tax Day, a special day that comes once a year. By and large, we hate it, or at least the idea of it. Most people wouldn’t argue with that. More on that later, but first, I’d like to say a little bit about youth ministers, and youth ministry.
It’s probably no secret that youth ministers are a different breed. Really, we have to be. After all, we work with teenagers. Do you have to have A.D.D. to teach the up and coming generation? Probably so, or at least you have to pretend like you do as you prepare your lessons week after week. We pull all-nighters, Facebook creep (because their parents won’t, for some reason), and send more text messages per week than the 14-year-old girl fan-base of Scotty McCreery who single-handedly won him the title of American Idol in only a few hours time.
Call me an optimist, but I really believe for the most part, the tide has turned for the better within churches of Christ in the way that they view youth ministry and youth ministers. Sure, there are bad youth ministers out there, just as there are bad preachers, elders, teachers, employees, employers, husbands, wives, etc. Some “youth guys” have left a bitter taste in the mouths of churches (thanks a lot for that, by the way). But that’s the not the fault of the ministry; it’s the fault of the minister.
Again, by and large, I think many have changed their minds, or are in the process of having their minds changed, in seeing youth ministry in a more positive light. Being a youth minister myself, I feel grateful and indebted to the guys who have done it right all these years. Thank you for your labor and your toil. You blazed some tough trails, fought some hard battles, and won over many critics. Thank you.
Youth ministers, chances are something weird happens to you probably at least one time a year: you get the opportunity preach. Remember that whole Christmas Day and Tax Day rant I went on earlier before my youth ministry A.D.D. manifested itself in full force? Here’s where I’m going with it: when it comes down to it, people are going to look at our preaching one of two ways: a day that they look forward to or a day that they dread.
When you preach, do people see it like Christmas Day or Tax Day? Not to belabor the point, but will you deliver a gift or will people be left wanting a refund? We don’t preach a lot. That’s not what we “signed up” for. We preach to teenagers, not to larger, mixed crowds. Most people get that, and quite honestly, most people don’t expect you to be able to “bring it.” After all, you’re the youth minister.
Ever heard people say stuff like this? “You do such a good job! You keep that up, and one day you’ll make a great preacher.” “Now that was a great sermon! Maybe one day you’ll have your own church.”
I know that people mean well, but do you hear the underlying ideas here? “One day, if you decide to grow up…” “One day, when you have a legitimate ministry…” “One day when you graduate into the pulpit…” Ouch.
Not to beat a dead horse, but how much do you think people in the corporate world would like it if all of your compliments came attached with lines like that? “Thanks for taking such good care of me and being a great nurse, Ms. Reynolds. I just know one day you’re going to make a great doctor.”
Youth ministers, if you want to preach one day, that’s okay. But if you don’t, that’s okay, too (did everybody get that?). Your legitimacy as both a minister and a Christian does not lie with how well you preach from the pulpit. Let your life preach.
All of that being said, if and when you do get the opportunity to preach, make it Christmas. Bring your “A” game. Flat out bring it. Straight up deliver. Not to wow them, not to show them how great that you are. But allow God to wow them, and show them how great He is.
It’s no secret that youth ministers have gifts that are useful in the kingdom. Quite honestly, there are probably a lot of those gifts that are going to need to make a transition into the pulpit one day, because guess what? The generation that I’m trying to reach right now is going to grow up. And any youth minister worth his salt is spending all of his time figuring out how to reach this generation with the message of God!
If some of us don’t transition into the pulpit, then what? Hey, if God can use Moses with a fear of public speaking, if He can use a murderous Paul, if He can turn a fearful Gideon into a warrior, you think He can use a guy with A.D.D. for His purposes? Me with my lame, stupid humor, weird illustrations, dumb games, and random ideas?
Yeah, me. And yeah, you. And yeah, youth ministers.
Philip Jenkins is the youth minister for the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.