Having the opportunity to work with youth has always been a highlight of my professional career and my personal journey. There is just something special about getting to know a 12-year-old and watching them grow through the awkward stages of youth into a young adult. And to make it better, every once in a while these former kids enter my life again as grown men and women with spouses, children, jobs and active, productive lives that are fully formed and fairly functional. I like to think I had a small part in that.
I started working with junior highers when I was a sophomore in high school. I retired my sleeping bag and guitar when I was 34-years-old. In the nearly 20 years that I worked with kids, I did it all. I organized summer camps, keynoted Sr. High Institute, took kids on retreats, outings and overnights. With the faithful adult volunteers, we completed Confirmation classes, sang camp songs and studied the Bible. We went bowling, white-water rafting, skiing and sledding. We climbed mountains and crawled in caves. We played cards, tag and Frisbee. We rode roller coasters, horses and go-carts. We drove from Colorado to Florida. We served the homeless, fed the hungry and ministered to the marginalized. In short, it was life changing ministry for all involved.
The kids we served over those years are too numerous to mention by name. Some were brilliant and bright and they changed my heart in ways they will never know. Some were chippy and challenging and pushed me to be a better person. A few were troubled and trouble and I never did find a way to help them. But most were just kids trying to figure out life and all it had to throw at them.
But as great as it was, I wouldn’t go back into youth ministry for any amount of money. Many years have passed and I’m no longer capable of keeping up with the kids. The good youth workers have energy and patience. I’m just tired and intolerant.
The best youth leaders are fully committed and completely competent. I’m neither.
The effective youth ministers are passionate and full of pizazz and I’m just pooped. In fact, I feel the need to take a nap even after this short walk down memory lane!