When I was in Michigan for Open Grand Rapids I had the chance of catching up with some families in Romeo. I left that time really, really encouraged.
For some, it was the first time I’d seen them in almost 6 years. But you know what? For everyone, it felt like a couple weeks when we were last together.
Working with teenagers is hard to measure. You get some immediate feedback and a ton of false positives. You keep your head down and hope for the best. You look for signs of success. But the simple reality is that it’ll take years (sometimes decades) to know if you really had an impact that lasts.
It was fun to catch-up with former students. Many of them are done with college now, taking their first steps in their first careers. There were four engaged couples in the room… which is crazy, you know. Crazy to think about them as freshmen in high school and now see them handling holding hands with a soon-to-be spouse.
Yes, I wish I’d been able to see more former students. And yes, my heart wanted to sit down and check in with them the way we’d always done at Bob’s Big Boy or Dairy Queen after school.
But yes, it was an honor just to get a couple hours of chit chat and catching up. God is faithful. I am very thankful that these busy young adults made time to hang out with their old youth pastor.
Youth ministry is ultimately a calling to faithfulness. For all the talk about programming, teaching, ideas, and resources… the single most important thing, looking back, I did in my 5 years in Romeo was be faithful to the calling God had for me there.
Care. Teach. Invest. Pray. Repeat.
It was great to catch-up with volunteers and the parents of teenagers. Inevitably, we all acknowledged that it didn’t seem like it’s been almost 6 years since I’d left. That means that about 11 years ago many of the same people in the room had interviewed me. And I’d made some promises about what I was going to do:
- I’m not fancy or entertaining, I’m going to teach the Bible and lots of it.
- I’m OK with a mess. I’m not perfect… I’m a mess, I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, and the process of growing in your faith is messy.
- I’m going to teach kids how to think critically about the world, to ask hard questions, and lean into hard things. (Following Jesus in the Bible often lead to death, not riches.)
- I’m not a topical person, I teach principles because I think God cares about the big picture.
- I’m going to take a long-range view of faith formation. I’m after mature, adult faith development.
Looking back, I hope that’s what they really wanted. Those parents and volunteers invested lots of time, resources, and (for parents) their own kids in my ministry.
It wasn’t flashy.
We taught a lot of Bible.
It was messy.
I taught those students to be a royal pain in the rear.
I taught them to live out the principles and forget the details.
And, I continue to pray, we invested in a long-range plan of adult faith formation over the hype of a big, immediate results program.
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