I hate lock-ins.

I loathe lock-ins. I fear them, even months away. In addition to disrupting the rhythm of my job, family life, and sleep cycles, they’re just not fun. Well, they’re not fun for me. Students have a blast. But, around midnight I begin to dream about my warm, soft bed and my warm, soft wife in my quiet home where the fridge has adult beverages.

Then I’m snapped back into my nightmare reality when a student boots an exercise ball into the projector, or gets ahold of a microphone, or that older guy I don’t know and that younger girl I do know suddenly aren’t accounted for.

Combine exhaustion, chaos, unpredictability, and inevitably comes a moment in every lock-in when I realize I can’t be a youth pastor any more. I don’t mean I begin to contemplate a career move. I mean it hits me full-force, epiphany like, that I’m not cut out for youth ministry. Maybe, I’m not cut out for ministry at all. Wait, is God is even real?

Then there’s the next day. While students are sleeping the previous night off, I’m trying to be a loving, patient husband and father to two small children (which something I struggle with when fully rested). My kids usually choose epic melt-down mode, which is followed by my own epic melt-down mode, which leads my wife to ask me why I keep doing these stupid lock-ins. And upon reflection, I realize that as traumatic as these events are, I can’t let go.

At obscene hours, I’ve watched students go from church acquaintances to genuine friends. I’ve gone from Sunday morning babysitter to trusted mentor and confidant. I’ve watched teens drop their church masks, revealing where they really are. While the price has been high, I’ve earned the right to speak into my students’ lives through these events.

Think back on your teenage years. Remember when your peers had their crazy stories about drinking too much and throwing up in someone’s shoes or ripping pants while running from the cops? Good church kids are at risk of feeling alienated from their peers when they don’t have good stories of their own. Christian teens need to be armed with stories about staying up all night and bowling with turkeys or having strobe-light pillow fights or trespassing with their youth pastor (long story).

So I press on. But I have to get smart. I’m learning that in my advanced age (twenty seven), I need to have a team of fresh, naive, single young adults. I also have learned that it helps to start the night off with a memorable experience, and that it’s best when that experience can get adrenaline pumping (did I mention trespassing”). These moments set a foundation for friendship through shared experience and a context for conversations throughout the night. It also seems to lead to kids being more relaxed later, when you want things to start slowing down.

Have I seen lives changed at a lock-in? I can’t say that I have, but the culture of our youth ministry has been changed for the better. I would encourage you to keep pressing into the lock-in. I certainly will.

Although I am taking a break, because the last one nearly killed me.


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Joe Woodman
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