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Youth Ministry Is Messy. But It’s Worth It.

Youth Ministry Is Messy. But It’s Worth It.

There was a time, years ago, when I harbored a certain romanticized picture of youth ministry and my role in it.  I think if I was honest, I probably saw teenagers as blank dry-erase boards and myself as the guy wielding a handful of different colored markers. I knew (with the confidence of the uninitiated) that I would be able to draw my own brand of creative, Gospel-centered wisdom onto their lives. I had an agenda. I knew best. I probably would never have said it out loud, but I’m sure I was thinking how fortunate these teenagers were to have ME as the guy leading them closer to Christ. 

My how things have changed . . . ☺

What I have learned over the years is what we all have learned at some point: youth ministry is messy. 

For starters, youth ministry is an agenda destroyer unlike few other pursuits. We deal with people. Teenagers. Parents. Other adults. Unique people with unique problems and personalities. There is no one size fits all approach to relationships. Or discipleship. I have learned to embrace the fact that any pre-conceived agenda I have will most likely be trumped by an unforeseen variable in the life of one of my students. And you know what? That’s OK. 

Youth ministry is messy because our students’ lives are messy. Any given day we can walk into our small group meetings and get hit with hand grenade. We can ask the seemingly benign question, “So, what’s new?” and hear a 16-year-old guy respond: “I don’t care about school. I don’t care about my parents.” Alrighty! When we accept the responsibility of being involved with teenagers, we accept that we must be involved in ALL areas of their lives, not just the feel-good parts.

And for Pete’s sake, youth ministry is messy because of the very demographic we minister to. I kid you not, a recent discussion about what my 10th grade guys want to be when they grow up devolved into a (joking) debate amongst my guys about how much male exotic dancers make each year. This was one of the many moments over the last many years when I could step back and say, “This is not going like I wanted it to.” 

But here’s the deal: You may not have known it at the time, but this is exactly what you signed up for! 

Youth ministry is messy. But oh my gosh what an awesome, wonderful mess it is. 

The older I get, the more comfortable I am with the mess. 

I am OK with bidding farewell to an agenda that was too rigid, too linear, and too inflexible to begin with. I have instead embraced the tangled, tangent-filled, start-and-stop pathway of true relationship. I like it much better.

I welcome the chance to do real life with my teenagers. I am excited to share in their concerns, concerns the younger me might have dismissed as trivial. 

And I have come to see the silly, slightly weird, and, yes, sometimes irreverent aspects of teenage personality not as distractions, but as the part of youth ministry that is just pure fun. To be sure, there’s a time to be serious. But man, I sure do enjoy laughing along at the latest ridiculous thing to come out of my guys’ mouths. 

Youth ministry is messy. But it’s worth every minute of it. 



 (Originally published in September 2014)
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