"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." Mark 4:26-29
Before we joined the Lord in the birth of a new church, Jacob's Well....we were youth pastors.
I love young people, always have, always will. There are days that I miss the craziness, the unpredictability, unending drama and sheer joyfulness of working primarily with teens. It's a wild ride but some of my most treasured memories of ministry and friendships are centered in youth ministry. Young people are open, inquisitive, willing to stretch, bored with the normal, love a challenge and charged full of God ordained, puberty inducing stupidity that makes them perfect for the life and message of the gospel...they are just dumb enough to actually believe and follow the truth...it's a youthful wisdom, we lose as we grow wiser in age.
As a new church plant, we wrestled with how youth ministry would unfold. We had a lot of ideas and we tried to "plant" those programs...and none of them "took root". Leaving this old youth dude, fairly angst'd about the situation but too overloaded with new responsibilities to take on that role as well. As a father, I was also concerned that my kids were not going to get the full meal deal of youth ministry that I had served up for everyone elses kids in years gone by. I had poured out my most energetic, zeal filled, caffeine juiced, spirit amped years on the spiritual lives and schools of the churches youth and now my kids were going to get zilch. It's was a grave cost of this new work that I didn't fully grasp until we got into it. Not to mention that pastoral challenge of figuring out the youth angle for incoming families with tweeners and teeners...no ministry...usually means no stay-ey. It's a tough start up predicament. Then there is the multitudes of teenagers that roam our neighborhood...that will pang the calloused of youth workers hearts.
It's been a deep matter of prayer and desire, that continually ascends from this pastor parent's heart and soul.
But God has been faithfully at work in the night of my youth pastoring inactivity. Since my older kids had to start new schools and a new church they poured themselves into music and school. This forced a new missional opportunity...the salt got shaken out of the youth church and into youth culture. They were not able to get comfortable and cared for in a way that inoculated them from being in the world and reaching out for their own relational survival. It took "evangelism" and stripped it of its "churchy" duty and it became friendship based, natural and more engaging with teens that were not church kids.
With their music taking off, it meant we were surrounded with lots of teens...in our home, at the rock shows, at their schools. I found myself in and among the very kids my heart yearned for and I saw God at work through my kids...vs. a youth program. I discovered a way of ministry that was organic, built out of the lives of the teens instead of a structure built for the teens. It's revolutionized my thinking and its shaping my understanding of ministry in many new ways.
I find myself very glad they are playing in the city's clubs now instead of the city's youth rooms. I am deeply won over by the fruit of being outside of the church instead of chained in the sanctuary. I see, hear and experience a fresh expression of youth ministry that is more effective than many models I have perpetuated in the past. Not that I would never want a youth ministry among our youth at Jacob's Well...but it would have to be one that responded to the youth ministry that is already growing. We do not need a youth person to "start" a ministry now...we need people who will tend and cultivate what is already growing among us. That is a liberating endeavor.
Last night our church threw a fundraising show for my son's band Nothing To Gain (formerly known as: Raw Nerve). As they were shredding and the teens were dancing, laughing, screaming and basically just having the time of their lives...I saw God at work among us.
Last night I saw teens coming into a church, mingling with adults, free to be themselves and let the evening unfold as they saw fit...they danced, hung out, banged their heads, smoked, drank too much mountain dew and made a mess of our sound board and church sanctuary...and I loved it! We served their agendas..they didnt serve ours. I connected with their parents...a very rare opportunity in my past youth pastoring days; parents hardly stepped in the door of the church back then. But now, they are right there, listening, supporting and enjoying our hospitality.
I met over 10 kids that I had never met before and that I would only meet in this kind of venue. Teens that are not followers of Jesus...the kids I would want to get to know and now can, thanks to my sons love for metal, artistry and loud amps.
I got to see young people lead from their gifts and their hearts and support them, give to them and show them they matter. It's a opportunity that church planting opened up for me to do, in ways that I probably never would have otherwise. For that I am extremely grateful.
I now see that God is at work, the seeds are growing and the Spirit of God is always at work in the fields of youth culture and often in ways and places, we simply cannot see or are unwilling to go.
This old youth pastor has a lot to learn about the many ways God does youth ministry...