I spent last week with an amazing group of youth workers as we traveled from Seattle to Zimbabwe and back. And while I knew a few of them casually beforehand– during the trip we all got to know one another much better as we were drawn together by shared experiences.
- We snorted in laughter when a waitress covered Shawn in ice cream.
- We cried together for a starving family whose only hope is faith that Jesus truly is a provider.
- We bumped along nameless roads together and crossed washed out bridges together.
- We shared meals together, got high on Mazoe Orange Crush together, and discovered beans on toast thanks to Leah together.
- We laughed until we cried recalling poor Emily falling into a stream.
In my mind those shared experiences instantly elevate all of them to kinfolk. That’s just how I roll.
As I flew home last weekend, reflecting on the whole experience and our team I couldn’t get this phrase out of my mind: Each person on the trip was true to their first love.
There was no infidelity of purpose. Those whom I traveled with went on behalf of their students and ministries to witness the impact of World Vision generally and the 30 Hour Famine specifically. No one had ulterior motives. No one thought of themselves in a way that’d seek to use the trip to propel themselves to something else. It was pure. And simple. And for me, encouraging.
It symbolized a rounding-of-the-corner for where we are in youth ministry right now. These folks were secure in their positions, in their personhood, and in their own skin. That’s a far cry from where things were a few years ago when the economy was crashing and causing everyone to rethink and posture themselves as open to anything.
Those days caused a lot of infidelity and not seeing that deeply encouraged me about the current state of youth ministry.
The Lure of Infidelity
In Revelation 2, John records Jesus’ judgment for the seven churches in Asia. Decades before, Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church records their struggle towards health. Yet, less than 50 years later Jesus said of them, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Somewhere along the way infidelity crept in and stole their place of honor.
What I find interesting about John’s words, and why infidelity is the right word to use, is that we aren’t talking about a lack of love for the first thing but rather a misappropriation of love. They didn’t denounce their first love… they just abandoned it. They got so far away from their number one thing that they couldn’t even remember why they were following Jesus at all.
Infidelity in youth ministry is surprisingly common. People go into vocational youth ministry because they love students, they love the maturation process, they love seeing students take great leaps of faith unlike they will be able to do as adults. But as time goes on it gets easier and easier to forget that youth ministry is about that at all. Their first love becomes protecting their position. Or maybe their first love become advancement. Or perhaps their first love becomes their staff team. Or they want to get published or speak at conferences or something like that.
In and of themselves, none of those things are sinful but they are forms of infidelity that may gradually pull them away from their true first love of ministering to students. Sadly, it’s easy to meet people in youth ministry who aren’t sure anymore why they do it.
Infidelity is getting love out of order. And when you get love out of order you can’t see straight. Your impact is handicapped. Your judgement is poor. And your life just doesn’t make sense.
And nothing will make sense until you forsake all else for your first love once again.
If you’re straying, friends… come back to your first love.
If you aren’t sure why you do this anymore… come back to your first love.
If you don’t think it’s worth it anymore… come back to your first love.
If you doubt yourself and your abilities… come back to your first love.
You can always come back to your first love because your first love is always left waiting for you.