The Repeating of Youth Ministry

Originally published May 15, 2009.

For the past 17 years I have spent my off-days as a substitute teacher.Besides classroom management (which means crowd control and is something youth workers have experience in providing), I have to teach the same lesson four to five times a day.The same lesson on context clues in a paragraph.The same lesson on World War I.The same lesson on mitosis.It is often stuff I knew already, except for algebra where my brain freezes.As I teach the same lesson over and over again, I have to remind myself that this may be the first time this class of 8th graders is learning it.I have to try to teach the lesson so it has the same learning impact it did on 1st period all the way through to 5th period.Even though I now know every detail of that lesson, I need to teach it to that 5th period class as enticingly as 1st period received it.

Youth ministry is a lot like this.

 I have a family at my church going through a painful separation (which thankfully will not end in divorce).It is devastatingly painful on the teen children.When talking to the teens, I find myself reaching for comforting words, fresh words, but the words I have for them are the same words I’ve had for my 28 years of youth ministry counseling.I feel like I’m not saying anything that is helpful but is rather stale, until I remember that this is fresh truth to them.This is the first they’ve heard it.And this truth hasn’t changed.

This is the repeating of youth ministry.

When I speak at camps and retreats and spend time answering questions with individual youth, I grow weary from repeating myself again and again and again as I get the same questions again and again and again.The oft-repeated answers make them feel cheap or cliché-ish.I sometimes doubt what I’m saying as I repeat it yet again.Until I remember that to the teen this is fresh truth.This is the first they’ve heard it.The truth hasn’t changed.

This is the repeating of youth ministry.

If you stay at a church long enough, you will also be seeing new teens continually circulate through your ministry.New teens with the same teen desires and the same teen issues.You will not only be repeating lesson ideas.You will also be repeating answers to their questions.

This is the repeating of youth ministry.

Teens are ever-changing and ever-growing as individuals.Change abounds in working with teens.However the truth of what you are teaching and counseling doesn’t change.But because I’m the one repeating the same teachings and the same counsel, I have found myself trying to modernize it or make it sound simpler or more clever.In those efforts, I sometimes have complicated the entire subject only because I wanted to sound fresh.I need to remember that to the teen, the truth I pass on is fresh truth.This is the first they’ve heard it.It is not cliché-ish.It is not stale.It is the truth.Hopefully life-changing truth.

This truth is also a part of the repeating of youth ministry.This crisis that the teen is experiencing is not the worst crisis that will ever happen to him/her.I know the sun will come out tomorrow and that God will be faithful to His word.I need to remind myself that the teen doesn’t know this yet.To him/her, every emotion he/she is feeling is new and alive and overwhelmingly painful at this time.This is the worst experience that has ever happened to that teen.Because I know that it probably isn’t, I have to empathize with the pain again, offer the unchanging truth again, and enter into this pain again with the teen to help her walk through it til she can see God walking with her through it.If I’m not careful, I can come off as dismissive.

In particular, I have to resist being dismissive because I don’t want to enter that pain again as it reminds me of my own adolescent pain.This is one reason why adults don’t want to volunteer to work with teens—the pain of their own adolescence is still too fresh.Because I continue to work with teens, the pain of my adolescence stays fresh.It is always in the forefront of my life and I can’t say this is a reward of youth ministry.This is the repeating of my life which has times of being tougher than the repeating of youth ministry.

The lesson on World War 1 is just as much the truth for 1st period as it is for 5th period.And God’s answer to where He is when we are in pain is just as much the truth for the teen I ministered to in 1982 as it is the truth in 2009.Repeating is very much a part of youth ministry.