It’s Wednesday afternoon. I’ve got one eye on finishing up my work, one eye on the clock so I don’t forget to pick up the kids from school, and another eye on a lesson I’m supposed to teach at youth group.
The problem is that I only have two eyes. There’s only one of me. And as much as I love investing in the lives of teenagers– I mean that’s what my whole life is about– I catch myself muttering this phrase: This better be worth it.
I’m “in” with our churches youth ministry. I love what God is doing. I love the staff team, count Brian as a friend, and I love being a part of it all. I’m not sharing this because Brian is somehow not doing his job– He sets the bar for awesomeness. (Communication is solid, I have a defined role, plus I have autonomy to make my part of the ministry whatever I want.)
But even with all of his awesomeness I still have a creeping thought nearly every week: This better be worth it.
You see, being a volunteer youth worker isn’t easy.
It was easy when I was 23 and had a job I didn’t love. I looked forward to being at youth group because it was an escape– it was awesome to hang out with teenagers, serve along my wife, and be a part of something I cared about. I wasn’t giving much up to volunteer. In fact, I didn’t have much else going on, so volunteering was better than watching TV.
But I’m 37. I simply have no free time. I barely have time to invest properly in my own kids lives. I make time to volunteer because I believe God’s called me to it, I am making an impact in the lives of teenagers, and I’m needed. I do it because it’s still awesome to hang out with teenagers. And it is still awesome to be part of something.
But that time comes at a cost. A very real cost. Spending a few hours on a Wednesday night at youth group means I’m not doing something else. I’m not just giving up TV time these days, I’m saying no to other things in order to say yes to a small group of 8 guys.
And whether I like it or not each week I have to weigh that: This better be worth it.
Why We Do What We Do… Because It’s Easy to Forget
I’m here today, a 37 year old dad to three kids, a husband of 16 years, and volunteer in my youth ministry because 20+ years ago busy adults decided I was worth it. Those adults had no idea how much their investment meant to me.
I stunk at expressing how much their ministry meant to me. Sure, I was pretty good about saying thank you and sticking around to help clean up when I could. But I simply had no way to articulate that the time they spent with me had an huge impact that still pays dividends each day.
Some of the most impactful things were the simplest: Chatting in the van on the way home. One particular question has stuck with me for a long time, “If hell were a real place, do you think it’d change things for you?” Helping around the youth office over the summer, making endless copies and small talk with adults about adult stuff. Playing video games with a volunteer who was so horrible at Mario Cart that we gave him a 1 lap lead on a 3 lap race… then laughing with him when we still beat him. (Best part was he was a helicopter pilot!) Or the reaction from a volunteer when he saw we’d filled his car full of balloons and shrink wrapped it while he was teaching Sunday school in the second service. Or a friends dad taking me to play golf on his day of.
Looking back, I can imagine that those volunteers had moments driving to youth group and wondering, “Is this worth it?“And I can imagine them driving home and shaking their heads, “What a waste of time! We barely talked about God at all. All we did was play video games.”
I’m so glad that adults in my life wasted time with me. I’m so glad they stuck with me. I was a horrible investment.
But what they didn’t know was that they were the first adults to take me seriously. They were the only adults really listening to me. They were the ones showing me the way through the storm and encouraging me that it’d be OK. Most of them had no idea what was really going on in my life, they didn’t really need to know, but their time investment in me meant the world. I can’t imagine what would have happened if they weren’t there, if they weighed “this better be worth it” and decided it wasn’t.
That’s the problem with attributing worth to your time in youth ministry. If volunteering in youth group is about a return on investment you’re going to get very discouraged, very quickly.
That’s where the correction comes in the question isn’t, “Is this worth it?” Because if you look at ministry as X1 + X2 = success, you’ll quickly realize that investing in the lives of teenagers is a bottomless pit and it’ll feel like it isn’t worth it.
The question for you, the one I try to replace each week as I prepare for Wednesday night is: “Am I loving others like Jesus first loved me?”
I’m here today because adults loved me. I didn’t give much love back. I didn’t even really know how to give love back. But as they poured into me I learned what love was. As they sacrificed their family time, free time, money they didn’t have, and pieces of themselves they didn’t have extra to give– I experienced the love of Christ.
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19