By Ben Kerns
Student ministry is a demanding job, and it seems the longer I do it, the bigger the demands. Starting out, I couldn’t believe that I could actually get paid to spend time with students, take them out to lunch, play video games and help them experience the love and grace of God. As I settled into the job of being a youth worker, this simple beginning has expanded exponentially.
When you take the simple task of loving students and helping them explore their faith and then combine it with the all the extra expectations, emotional mood swings, scared or ticked off parents, crises, graduations, incoming 6th graders, managing your supervisor, changing programs, and personal growth and transition, it is a miracle that youth workers stick around for even 15 months.
As I reflect on my 15 years of vocational student ministry, I have come to realize that out of all I do and have done, there are two very basic rhythms that have allowed me to continue in student ministry for the long haul.
1) Continue to work out my own faith with fear and trembling. I have found that it is easy to slip into a maintenance mode in our faith. We study and pray as part our jobs, to prepare for an upcoming lesson or series. The truth is that our faith must be our own and the ministry we do must be an overflowing of the work that Jesus is doing in our own hearts. (I know this is a no brainer, but this head knowledge must become heart knowledge if we are going to be all that God longs for us to be.)
We must not settle in our understanding of scripture or in our personal process of sanctification. We are unfinished masterpieces and to accomplish the good work Jesus has for us to do, we must consistently submit to the hammer and chisel of the father. What better gift can we give to our students than an example of adult faith that is just as much in process as their is.
2) Get connected with other youth workers. For me, I have found that youth ministry is an emotionally and spiritually taxing endeavor. We give our entire lives, sacrifice a ton of who we are, just to walk alongside fickle students who often seem to not care. We have a ministry of preparation and often never get to experience fruit of our labor. As we are required to spin more and more plates and expected not to drop any of them, where can we go to get encouraged, resourced, and even set straight?
I have found that fellow youth workers are people who “get it.” They are people who will allow me to share my struggles and my joys. Once you get past the lame dance where you jockey for position and compare ministry size, you can actually enjoy some great friendships with people who understand this crazy and amazing calling.
Longevity in ministry is a total gift. It is a gift to parents, to students, and to your church. But even more so, it is a gift to me. The bigger gift is to be around long enough to see some of those seeds grow and produce fruit, to transition from leader to friend, and to feel settled in my gifts and calling. I would have missed out on these blessings several times over if I pulled the ejection handle too soon.
May you too continue to work out your faith, be connected with other youth workers, and enjoy ministry for the long haul.
Marin Covenant Church as the Pastor to Children and Students