I just returned from a couple of days in Austin, Texas at The National Youth Workers Convention. What an awesome time with 3000 of my fellow youth workers. While there, many youth workers shared their hearts with me.
Some were down. They were tired of being misunderstood by other adults who look at them suspiciously because they have chosen to dedicate their lives to a generation that desperately needs love and affirmation, and most importantly, Christ. While speaking on the MySpace phenomenon, many youth workers shared with me how difficult it is for them to even bridge a gap with students because parents are suspicious of this strange breed of human being that would choose to spend time with teenagers. They were tired of reading articles like the one that appeared in the The New York Times on Friday, declaring youth ministry as ineffective and proclaiming that the church in America is losing the next generation. Most of the youth workers that I talked to took offense at the article. They were vocal when the The Austin American Statesman newspaper interviewed them about the present state of youth ministry.
Some were tired. Youth minstry is hard. It is a calling that is demands long hours consisting of morning, night and weekend hours. It pays very little in most churches and junior and senior high students are not very quick to affirm you in that calling. I spoke to many youth ministry couples that were on the verge of quitting. They were ready to chuck it all for more lucrative careers and less headaches. By the end of the conversations, these same youth workers came to the conclusion that as much as they sometimes dream about doing something else, they are called to serve students, and they know nothing else is as important.
Some were ecstatic. They were being ministered to. They were singing songs with David Crowder, not just David Crowder songs performed by their youth band. They were rubbing elbows with Doug Fields, not just reading his books. It was so much fun to watch some of the leading youth workers in America taking time to listen, talk, and minister to their fellow youth workers. It was a great weekend.
The Austin version of the National Youth Workers Convention ends tomorrow. Join me in praying for these 3000 youth workers as they head back to their respective ministries. Join me in praying for teenagers. Pray that God will continue to do His new thing in this generation. Pray that churches will have the courage to invest in youth ministry, no matter the cost to tradition. Pray for the 10-15,000 other youth workers that will be going to National Youth Worker’s Conventions in Cincinnati, Charlotte and Anaheim this year.
When I was in college a pastor once said, “Satan possesses a double-edged sword. On one end is doubt, on the other is discouragement.” It makes me shudder to think of great youth workers on the brink of leaving ministries over their own doubt and discouragment about ministry. This is clergy appreciation month. Why not show your youth worker how much you appreciate him or her this month? It may be just the encouragement he or she needs to make it through another year.
One more thing: Mark Oestreicher, the president of Youth Specialties has a blog. It’s a great one. He regularly posts entries on the changing face of ministry to students. He has some great thoughts about the future of youth ministry here too. Check it out.