The Stars of Our Future
A few years ago one of my youth leaders remarked that working with middle and high school students is a lot like being Alan Shepard. Intrigued, I asked him to explain, and he said, “Shepard was the first American in space. His job was at times exhausting, overwhelming and loud. But he saw the stars. More specifically, he saw the light of the stars before that light reached the rest of us. He saw the stars of our future.” This is probably the best description I have ever come across of what it means to work with youth.
There are many reasons why different people work with youth. Some folks I have met call themselves “lifers” — they would never dream of doing anything but youth ministry. More common, though, are the folks who work with youth at the very beginning of their ministry (in many cases while in seminary) as a place to develop and discern their gifts. I am not sure why or when youth group became the place where many first cut their ministerial teeth, but it is important to see this: because many folks begin in youth ministry, there has unfortunately developed an attitude for some in which working with youth is seen as a stepping stone to larger and more glorious church ministry.
Certainly youth ministry can be a great place to train and develop gifts of preaching, teaching, leading and pastoral care. And clearly those who work with youth do not need to be called to it for their whole ministry. But for those who are at present simply enduring their work with middle and high school kids, my challenge to you is this: consider youth ministry as less like babysitting and more like stargazing … in space. If you are working with youth, whether for one more year or fifty, realize that what you are doing is not a mere stepping stone; it is itself a glorious opportunity.
Youth workers are tasked with proclaiming the gospel to a particular demographic that is, arguably, the most awkward period of one’s life. They have the chance to shepherd students through the valley of self-discovery where many of them are asking the big life questions for the very first time. And these middle and high school students will not always be middle and high school students. They are on their way to becoming husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, teachers, innovators, market place leaders, and on and on. Therefore, the challenge for the youth pastor is to have vision to see the students not only as they are, but also as what they are becoming. They are, truly, the light of our future. Like Shepard gazing at the stars, youth pastors have an early chance to glimpse at the beauty being unveiled in our youth.