We are going to write a few articles this month about things we wish we knew when we started out in youth ministry. I had the joy of doing youth ministry for twenty years and there are many lessons I’ve learned. One that came to mind this morning was something that was a struggle for me for years.
Have you ever had the experience where you see the kids showing up and you have that sinking feeling, “this is going to be one of those nights?” For whatever reason not many kids came. Maybe, even worse, you are in a rut – and it’s been several weeks in a row. My emotional and intellectual response was always to start to stress about who wasn’t there. Who are we missing? Why? Why aren’t they here? It’s not the same without them! Maybe it is even a couple of the ones who really connect the best, and keep conversation going, and make it more fun. And in some small, dark place in my heart (and in yours?) I just kind of wanted to cancel and skip it.
Now, there is a time and a place for thinking about who isn’t there – and deciding how best to reach them (or re-reach them) and help them get back to youth group. But that’s a different post. 🙂 What I have been convicted about over and over again in my ministry is to minister to whoever is in front of you. Literally. As you stand or sit there – who is here? Maybe it is a kid who doesn’t talk much, but now that some kids are missing they will? Maybe it is a kid who tends to melt into the background, but now there’s nowhere to hide! Maybe it is a kid with whom you struggle to connect, but now you’ll get a longer chance to talk.
This verse in 1 Peter has always challenged me. I read it when I was younger in the NKJV and it has always stuck with me in that form:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you (1 Peter 5:2, NKJV)
I know that it is a more general command to be a good shepherd to the flock. However, the way God challenged me with it was – “Hey Christian, pastor/shepherd the ones in front of you right now.” Seize every moment, every conversation, every opportunity to invest in whoever happens to literally be with you at that moment. You never know that if that car ride, that meeting, that meal….will be the one that sticks with them. It may not stick with you – but that’s not important!
Some of my favorite moments in youth pastoring have come because of this mindset. It is about being ready and available, no matter if your plans work or fail, the numbers are big or small, or the work is easy or hard. So keep that in mind next time you are frustrated by the amount of teens showing up. Take it as a personal challenge to shepherd whoever is right in front of you.