Last night was a unique night for me at youth group. It was not that anything particularly unusual happened, but what made it unique was in the way God spoke to me. Youth ministry has been looked at by some as some sort of overgrown recreation program. These people will tell you that youth pastors are hired in order to give the parents a break, or keep teens out of trouble. It is the notion that if they are out of sight, we don’t have to worry about them. The value of youth ministry is then diminished to a bunch of babysitters who can’t make friends their own age.
Sure, I confess, we eat pizza and we play games. But,the essence of what we do is not built on pizza, it is built on relationships. True, things don’t always go as planned. Yes, kids do things that can be annoying, frustrating and disappointing all in one night. Their committment is sporadic at times, their motivation to serve and grow is hindered by peer influence and the activities they spend time on don’t always matter. But, still youth ministry is important. I believe it is vitally important.
Youth ministry occurs at ages where kids are deciding some very real and important things. It is during these years where so many of them make life changing decisions about drugs, alcohol, or sex. They are asking the hard questions and trying to figure out if the faith their parents have taught them is what they want to believe. They have struggles they hope no one finds out about and dreams that they wish someone would ask them about. There is so much going on and yet so many times they are just missed. So much of the youth right around us are ignored because they look funny, act different or maybe appear to be distant. Do you know why they are distant? Because so many people will not talk to them like a human being.
This whole concept was weighing heavier on me last night as just last week a 17 year old boy killed himself in the local community. That is heavy stuff to deal with. The schools try their best to do something about it, but it comes across to the students as superficial and meaningless. They evaluate students and force them to talk with counselors they don’t know. It doesn’t work very well.
This is where I recognize the importance of our role in youth ministry. We provide a safe place to talk about and process these things. The wake for this young man was last night and a few of our students came right from the wake to youth group. That’s tough, very tough. There was one person who came as a visitor, right from the wake. This person was clearly hurting and rightly so. When I saw them holding a picture of this young man in their hands my heart broke. I can’t even begin to understand the deep-seated emotional issues going on there. It was at this moment that God spoke to me. It was as if God was reminding me of the significance of what we are doing there. This was fitting given the message I shared with the group was wrapped around this verse:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12
This whole scenario hit me like a ton of bricks. On any given night there might be multiple students who are struggling with something very heavy. I certainly don’t know what they are thinking about, unless they tell me. But, by providing a place to talk about the truth and how it applies, we can potentially intervene in someone’s life and steer them to life. Our role is life saving, not baby sitting.
Youth culture is tough, but God is at work. He is taking students who are hurting and using people serving in youth ministries to speak words of hope into the situation. These are not words of their own making, but the very Word of God. I truly hope that God used all that took place last night to encourage those who mourn. We are dealing with life and death stuff, not pizza and games.
“When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous have revenge.” Proverbs 14:32