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Amy’s time in her youth ministry got off to a rocky start as several youth ministers came and went before Dr. Jackson arrived during Amy’s 10th-grade year. Dr. Jackson helped guide Amy and many others through some difficult times in their lives and was an instrumental voice in shaping Amy's call to ministry.
Amy and Dr. Jackson spent some time talking about a variety of subjects. But the one that seemed to really stand out was an important thought about the perspective we take when ministering to our students.
The role of "knowledge" in youth ministry
Knowledge is important in youth ministry. It's important that we know about the craft of doing youth ministry, and of course, about the theological foundations of our faith. But, Dr. Jackson, says, “Knowledge doesn’t save anybody and knowledge doesn’t disciple anybody. It’s only part of it.” The naysayers claim that over 75 years of youth ministry, we haven’t moved the needle, but Dr. Jackson argues that we have. He says that he can think of plenty of examples of students who have moved through his youth ministry and his seminary classes who were deeply impacted by their time in youth ministry. "Youth ministry may not be perfect. But it's not a failed experience when it comes to relationships.” Dr. Jackson specifically pointed out Amy as an example. He said that when she was in his ministry, he wasn’t able to look forward to see the youth worker she would one day become. But because of his relationship with her, he was able to encourage her and allow God the opportunity to speak into her life and lead her into youth ministry where she would make a huge difference in the lives of students.
We have to know God. We have to know how to lead. We have to know how to implement our ministry strategy. But behind all of this knowledge is the foundation of a relationship. That's something youth ministry has always been great at developing.
Seeing students develop a passion for God.
Although it may seem like a cliche, says Dr. Jackson, seeing your students move forward in their lives and become passionate followers of God helps you to "grow old with grace.” Trusting that the Lord has used you to plant seeds in your students will eventually help you trust the hand that you’re passing the baton off to. Even Jesus said that the ones who come after would do greater things. Dr. Jackson urges youth workers to take comfort in this because you can rest in the knowledge that none of it is based on you; it’s all how God uses you. By investing in his leaders, who in turn invest in students, he was able to make a deeper impact in each of his students, and those students have gone out and done incredible things for the Kingdom.
"They did youth ministry, and they found their thing” - Dr. Jackson
Making the shift
If you’re in youth ministry, you either have had or will have a day where that switch will go off, and you’ll focus more on empowering your students rather than getting them to like you. Afterward, you’ll start to see the student moving forward and doing great things. You have to remember that it’s not about you. You never quit wanting your students to like you, and God will give you opportunities to get a pat on the shoulder and feel like you’re students like you, but you will eventually prioritize empowering the students over getting them to just like you.
Youth ministers will come and go if they forget that their job is to resource the person who will speak into the life of a 10th grader. As much as we want to make it about the size of our ministry, and the likability of ourselves, that is not what it's about, it’s ultimately about telling your students about Christ. “I get to be in the ear of somebody," says Dr. Jackson, "but they get to be in the ear of somebody where eternity is at stake."
Andy Blanks is the Publisher and Co-Founder of YM360 and Iron Hill Press. A former Marine, Andy has spent the last 17 years working in youth ministry, mostly in the field of publishing. During that time, Andy has led the development of some of the most-used Bible study curriculum and discipleship resources in the country. He has authored numerous books, Bible studies, and articles, and regularly speaks at events and conferences, both for adults and teenagers. Andy and his wife, Brendt, were married in 2000. They have four children: three girls and one boy.