Last Sunday I was asked why I do youth ministry. I gave a quick answer and went in to the sanctuary. As I was sitting through the sermon I gazed out the window at the current building project just beginning. To me the area looked icky, mud from one end to the other. Large dirty tarps covered the newly poured foundation protecting it from the cold as it cured. I discovered many parallels between this work site and youth ministry.
Early teens are just beginning to build their personality and faith apart from their parents. You can't really see what's happening but foundational decisions about who they are going to be and what they are going to believe are taking place.
Kid's brains are actually still developing. They don't think like adults. They do not act like nice adults. They can be rude, boisterous, and irreverent. Just like a dirty job site if you wade in you're going to get dirty. I noticed that the church members all stayed in the finished part of the church where is was clean. Only a certain few paid contractors and workers would venture into the job site. Some youth workers understand the importance of laying a firm Biblical and Spiritual foundation in teens. They wade in fearlessly, knowing that there won't be many acknowledgements of the work they are doing and few will see any real outward signs of progress being made in the lives of the kids. They roll up their sleeves and get dirty anyway.
Few church people will help, preferring to stay in the clean finished church building working on their own stuff. They would rather pay someone else to do this unpleasant chore. Unfortunately, while the foundation is the most important part of any building, the youth worker is the most poorly compensated, and frequently the most inexperienced person in the Christian community. Usually the highly paid master pastor stays in the warm clean church helping the adults paint and decorate their lives with niceness. Churches seem content to let middle school age kids flounder with the elementary grades or dump them into the High School groups -as long as their quite. Teens are often left in the care of "interns" with little experience and impoverished budgets.
Is it any wonder that today's church is suffering from lack of depth and poor attendance? But anyway, back to the original question, why do I do youth ministry. I wish I could say it was Isiah 6:8 "Here I am send me," but it's nothing so noble. I just like teens better than grown-ups. They're more honest, sometimes brutally so, they really want to know the answers to the questions they ask, and they make major life changes when they decide to believe something.
It's like the remodel I'm doing on my house. The major work was done in about six weeks but the finish details are dragging on. It's been four years and I still haven't finished the baseboards. I should be working on that right now.
So there you have it. I just started spending time with kids (hiding out from grown-up church actually). I began to value them as real individuals. They in turn responded by trusting me. I feel like I was given the right set of spiritual gifts along the way to be worthy of that trust. It just grew from there.
Here's another fun parallel: We have "hydro-compactable" soil here. If it gets wet it turns to soft goo. Anything built on it better have a proper foundation with pylons driven down to the bedrock or the building will be unstable. I actually attended a church that has sunk 18" inches on one end. It was literally an up hill climb to get to the alter. We should be building strong Biblical foundations in kids lives with pylons rooted on the rock of Christ. I think our major focus in church should be the kids. How's your church doing? What do you think?