Read His Words Before Ours!
I can feel my coffee cooling as time passes between us. I fix my gaze on Billy, hunched across the table from me, head hanging low and shame creeping up his neck. He has every right to be upset: his home life is a mess and his girlfriend just broke up with him.
This. This moment is everything to me as a youth pastor. And yet, during my training, I never saw it coming.
In high school, I developed a deep, lasting friendship with my youth pastor. He called out the best in me, challenged me, and saw something in me I’d never seen in myself.
Following an abrupt change in pastoral leadership during my senior year, I volunteered to help lead a mission trip. Thus, I became the first unofficial youth ministry intern.
As I served under the discipleship of my youth pastor, my faith became real. I began to long for others to experience the magnitude of God, as I had. I am most alive when I see others take steps forward in their faith, steps from death to everlasting life. It is my life’s devotion.
I’m brought back to the present by Billy’s shaky sigh. He’s on the verge of speaking. I wait, allowing the silence to penetrate his soul. I’m in no rush. This moment in time is just for Billy.
These moments, teetering on the cusp of breakthrough, are pivotal. My best days in student ministry have never been behind a desk, prepping for a catchy Wednesday night message. No, my best days have always been at a table shared with a kindred or hurting spirit.
It took me a while to learn this. I landed a job at Living Stones Community Church before my college graduation. On my first day of work, I rolled up in my car with a backseat full of textbooks and the latest and greatest resources.
With my pride-puffed chest and irremovable smile, I approached the lead pastor as he watered flowers and we began chatting. “Adam,” he remarked a few minutes later, “you’re going to find out ministry is more than just sermon prep.”
My face remained attentive while I silently scoffed, “That’s what you think. People are going to be changed because of MY convicting sermons. Just you wait. Living Stones isn’t going to know what hit it.”
I began spending my days preparing my sermons. I would sit and dream, praying about what God wanted me to teach my students.
And yet, I was working completely alone. It was lonely, isolating, and depressing.
Then, a mentor told me, “If you want to shepherd but hate sheep, you need to go home.”
It was the punch-in-the-gut conviction I needed.
I couldn’t just sit behind a desk preparing sermons,
or change the name of the youth group to make it sound catchier,
or buy the latest youth packages available,
and call my efforts discipleship or even pastoring.
I needed to love the students where they were, in hospitals, schools, at basketball games, and school performances. God began giving me a Gospel-ache to help other student pastors love their sheep well.
Eventually, I began a Student Pastor Network in our area. Once a month, we pray for one another and share ideas.
I also began getting a little dirtier with my students.
I sat in their mess with them.
I stopped preaching at my sheep and began loving them.
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the transformation He’s worked in my heart. If I’d remained unchanged, I wouldn’t be sitting with Billy, helping him navigate hard questions and confusing times.
“But, Adam?” Billy says. “All of this mess, all of the hard times and sad nights and even loneliness, it’s all worth it for one life, isn’t it? If I get to see my dad come to know Jesus because of everything I’ve been through, it’ll be worth it, right?”
I understand his question; we ask our youth group, “Who is the ONE LIFE you’re praying will come to know and trust Jesus? What is your role in the process?”
I wonder if Billy is also asking if he’s worth it to me. Billy joined our youth group in the midst of my chaotic personal life, and came to know Jesus when I shared the messy truth even pastors are faced with tremendous losses and life-altering, hard decisions.
“Billy,” I say, “it is completely worth it. You are the one life who’s made my struggles worth the pain. My trials aren’t easier, and my messes aren’t cleaner. But God used you to remind me I have hope and purpose.” Billy’s eyes soften as truth settles over him and soothes his heart.
As Billy and I wrap up our time together, I pray over him and ask if I’ll see him at FCA the next morning. I’ve learned connecting with teenagers doesn’t just look like chatting with them when they’re at church, or sharing memes during my sermons, or even trying to use their slang when interacting.
The truth is, I’m going to grow more “out of touch” as I grow older, and it’s ok! I don’t need to be one of them, I need to be with them. I work hard to become a student of my students.
Teenagers are charting new waters, ones many of us have never faced. They are learning to navigate the world not only in person, but digitally. These days, students are bolder with their thumbs than with their mouths, and they need help ensuring what pours from their mouths and their devices reflects what’s inside their hearts. That’s just one of my jobs as their pastor.
I strive to unite all of the roles I fill behind my ultimate calling to preserve the bride of Christ. The Church is certainly not perfect, but she is beautiful, and I want to live and pastor as He leads.
I pull into the church parking lot and give our lead pastor a little wave as I head back inside; he’s watering the flowers again.
It’s been eight years since I began working at this church, and I’m a different man. Our pastor knows I’m heading inside to prep my message. But he also knows I came from meeting with Billy.
It turns out, he was right. There is so much more to ministry than sermon prep.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!