When I signed up to be a youth minister, there were certain expectations. Youth ministers tend to fit certain stereotypes. Youth ministers have hot wives, goatees, and hipster glasses. They listen to worship music all the time and put entirely too much product in their hair.
But other than the hot wife, I don’t fit many of the stereotypes. Yeah, I wear flip flops and I have a MacBook computer, but I also like studying Greek, and refuse to host a lock-in. I don’t like football, and I find Christian music boring.
And since I may not fit all of those youth minister stereotypes, I think I ought to come clean about a few other things too.
I don’t care if our students wear explicitly Christian T-Shirts. In fact, I prefer they don’t. I don’t particularly want them handing out tracts or learning how to sell Jesus to their friends. I don’t want to focus on why they shouldn’t be having sex or why the Bible is the greatest thing in the world or why Youth Group should be their highest priority.
I want them to experience a connection with God that leaves them hungry for more. I want them to gain an understanding of Scripture that moves them past a love of Scripture and into a love of the God represented in Scriptire, and a desire to know him more. I want them to seek Truth outside of the pages of Scripture, and to recognize God when they see him in the world, even if it’s in the practices of other cultures and religions.
I want them to enjoy life. I want them to play their sports or participate in their extracurricular activities wiithout fear that they’re missing out at church because their practice and our movie night, or devo, or even retreat were on the same night. I want them to give glory to God for what they’re good at, and to be a shining light on their sports team or in their band or choir without even having to quote scripture at their friends.
I want them to engage in spiritual growth outside of a youth group or larger church setting. I want their youth group experience to only be a small part of their God experience as teenagers. I want for them to graduate from youth group with a fire to experience the fullness of a life lived inside the presence of God, and I don’t care if they want to be ministers or go to a Christian school, as long as they want to know God more.
I want them to ask questions and to wrestle with doubt. I want them to look at passages in the Bible and feel comfortable enough with God to say, “This doesn’t make any sense, and frankly, God, I don’t like what I’m seeing.” I want them to be able to continue to worship and trust God even as they say that.
I want them to develop a deep appreciation and love for the Church, but to be able to recognize what structures are man-made and be willing to adapt or do away with those structures as they seek to be closer to God. I want them to have good relationships with lots of adults who will foster this kind of growth and who won’t try to limit faith to a series of behavioral edicts. I want them to stop asking “is this a sin?” And instead ask, “Will this draw me into the presence of God?”
I want them to screw up. I want them to make mistakes that will reveal the depths of God’s mercy and Christ’s sacrifice, as well as fuel their desire to be transformed more fully into the image of God. I want them to develop a sense of urgency about service, and to serve others for the sake of service, and not for the cool trip or the sense of accomplishment.
I want them to enjoy expressions of art without asking, “is this a Christian artist?” I want them to find expressions of worship among the secular and the mundane. I want them to be able to experience worship, whether they’re listening to Chris Tomlin, Beethoven, Maroon 5, or sheer silence. I want them to be able to worship whether they’re sitting in church or sitting in school. I want them to find God in every nook and cranny of their lives and to embrace him when they find him
Thats what I want out of youth ministry. It doesn’t matter to me how many kids I baptize or study with. I don’t care how many kids are in my youth group. I don’t want the flashiest or most exciting youth program in town. But if one kid experiences the kind of relationship with God that I described above, I’ll consider my job a success.