Reflections of 30 Years of Life as a Youth Minister

  • Print

Originally released October, 2011.

October 31, 1981, was my first event in youth ministry. I was part of a group of adults who put on a haunted house with a ministry goal for the teens. Somehow I rose in leadership through the planning of this event and have been in youth ministry ever since. On that night I met and connected with two pre-teen boys, Jay and Randy Johnson, whom we still share a tight bond. As impactful as this night was, I've never done another haunted house ministry. I never got why we did that.

Those first five years I was naive yet, I believe, also supernaturally protected. However I led as I did is a mystery other than it came out of pure obedience to the call on my life. Particularly those first two years. Randy and Jay to this day mention that this 2-year window is a recognized supernatural time in their lives. Those two years were also the happiest years of my life.

 

The following years were some of my more shameful years as a minister as I led a Brenda-centered youth ministry. Yet these years are a part of my 30-year story. I won't say much more about them here as I've been pretty honest about those years for the 20 years I've been writing Pair of Cleats for Wild Frontier.

Blessedly my last 21-years have been served at one church--one church who has allowed me to use them as a "guinea pig" for church family-based youth ministry. This type of ministry is the best decision ever. And I'm speaking from experience.

I've always been more concerned about the spiritual health of the teens under my care than numbers--even during my years of Brenda-centered youth ministry. I still remember well battling with my senior pastor who wanted and ordered me to do attractional youth ministry. I outright refused thus ended my tenure there. So with that background piece of my life, I am proud to brag about the results I see in the spiritual health of the teens in my church. ?I attribute this to the fruit of church family-based youth ministry. At my 30-year mark, I do take a lot of pride in this especially knowing that to do this I had to get out of the way and bring the church family in. Best ministry decision ever.

I've spent exactly half of those 30 years single and now the second half as a married person. I am enjoying being married. My husband, John Amodea, is quite an adventure--a story I don't have room to tell here. Plus he has added much to who I am as a minister. Having said that, I do miss my days of being single--and this is not just revisionist history. I was single-mindedly committed to my call so I was living with that passion. I was not putting my life on hold until I got married. I was so single-minded that many guys fell off just because there was no room for them. John persevered through that, wore me down, and got his way by getting me to that marriage altar. It has been a good decision. But I'm also glad I had 15 years of such Wild Frontier living as a single. I believe this is a strong part of my story. I wish that same story to the many other single youth workers out there.

Becoming ordained is a proud memory. This memory is all about being acknowledged by mentors and respected ministers and having this call on my life confirmed.

Longevity has so many blessings that I possibly cannot even recount them all for you.

Longevity means the rhythm of the youth ministry happens with or without me. We have so many parents and members of the church family involved in large roles and small roles that I have more time to plant personalized dreams into the individual teens. I can personalize how I and the church family partake in each individual's faith shaping. I don't know how this can happen without longevity.

There is a lot of repeating of youth ministry. I've learned to embrace this and not minimize it. I also realize how wise I probably sound again and again and again. This is only from lots and lots of practice.

I am no longer culturally hip. This could be blamed on my age. This could be blamed on my age in the Information Age. I just know I cannot keep up and I'm losing the desire to keep up. For Wild Frontier, I try to stay somewhat culturally relevant. But with my youth group, I don't even try anymore. They know I don't know a Justin Bieber song, I've only seen one movie this year, and I don't know what the cool shows are on TV. Yet it doesn't seem to matter. They know that I care about them. They know that I have wisdom for them if they seek it out. They know I will always be available to them. This may have something to do with my longevity in one church. I'm not sure. I just know I don't have to spend my time being culturally hip to be effective. My presence, which I believe comes out of my time with God, is effective enough.

So when I do feel culturally dorky, I remind myself of this truth found in this great article, From Relevant Dude to Spiritual Father, "The highly relevant pastor is bro'. There's certainly a place for pastors to be in tune with culture and to be relatable. But where do I find a man of God who will nurture my spiritual life? That's what's I need. Relevance is easy to find. But when I stumble in that same old sin that I keep slipping in, I need someone with wisdom and maturity to go to. It's fine if that person also happens to know about some great new indie bands, but in those moments, I need something else. I need depth."

I am certainly not bro'. Nor have I in my 30 years been offended when such great articles only address the male side of ministry. That's such small beans.

None of this would have happened without a life of prayer. But don't start thinking I'm some giant prayer warrior. Prayer is not one of my strengths. I simply have an honest enough relationship with God to pray whenever and however I want to. God and I are close but in that Jacob-wrestling-with-God-and-having-won-the-blessing-but-always-limping sort of way.

I hate seeing teens grow up. I wish they stayed 14 forever. Of course, I don't wish forever adolescence on those teens--especially that identity-forming year of age 14. But it is so sad for me to graduate teens into adulthood. This has never gotten easier. I have learned though to not voice this out loud to the teens. I have made some feel guilty for growing up. I've learned to verbally celebrate and mark their spiritual markers. But secretly I am sad when one gets confirmed or gets a driver's license or graduates from high school.

Then again youth ministry doesn't end at age 18, does it? I cherish talking and ministering to all the grown teens I've been blessed to be in relationship with. Jay and Randy are no longer 14 and 12 yet I'm still allowed to speak into their lives. Is there a greater honor? And how many countless times have Jay and Randy and all the others spoken into my life! Such wise adults they've grown into.

I do not think I would have made it to 30 years without adopting some sort of physical activity plan in my life years ago. This is a time priority I make.

I do wish I had financial security. Thirty years of ministry has not brought that my way. I could have moved up and on to bigger and more secure positions in youth ministry but I know deep down that those would have been safe decisions and I'm a Wild-Frontier-kind of girl. My life is full of blessings, my home is my favorite location on Planet Earth (if it was one block from a warm ocean beach it would be my heavenly mansion), and I eat well. The rest and future is in God's hands. I believe this is also part of my story of 30 years. It's not one that speaks security to some of you but you should know.

Unbeknownst to most people in my life, I at one time aspired to be an artist. I used to paint watercolors and do other artsy stuff for a hobby. I haven't touched my watercolors since 1982. This correlates directly with the turn of my life into youth ministry. It was then that I stopped painting on canvas and started painting on human hearts. I know that is quite the artsy statement yet my creativity has founds new avenues. After all, I'm just doing what 2 Corinthians 3:3 tells us: "You are like a letter written by Christ and delivered by us. But you are not written with pen and ink or on tablets made of stone. You are written in our hearts by the Spirit of the living God." I've long been using new mediums to stain human hearts.

I have been praying about what to do next. My original call gave me a clear plan on what to do until I turned 30-years old. I did accomplish those goals so when I turned 30 I suffered a mid-life crisis of sorts as I did not know what to do next. Since then I've just been continuing on. Now that I'm facing another 30 in my life, I still don't know what to do next so I'm still continuing on. I'm open but I also know I really like where I am right now in all areas of my life. I believe I will be counting towards 31.