This past valentines day I reached the mark of six years in youth ministry, all with my church here in Alabama. Shortly after crossing that threshold a friend asked me if I felt like a veteran youth minister now. My answer: “no, not really.”
Six years ago I moved to Alabama to accept a full time position as a minister. But just a year prior to that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
I had moved across the country to attend seminary at Gardner-Webb University in order to become a professor and teach in biblical studies. Two years into that masters program I knew my path was not that of a professor. I was preaching a good amount on Sunday mornings, largely pulpit supply for Pastors on vacation or sick. I attended a wonderful little church that allowed me to preach fairly often. I also preached a few youth events, mostly small youth rallies or disciple now weekends. But my path seemed awfully unclear. I didn’t consider youth ministry a possibility at all, too small for me. (Wow, even typing the words make me feel gross.)
God sent two things into my world that changed all of that: Dara and C.O.R.E.. One of my fellow seminarians was a lady named Dara. She had become my friend the very first day of seminary. In many ways she took care of myself and my two roommates – even at the age of 22 all of us needed a bit of taking care of. I knew her pretty well but hadn’t realized how great a minister she was, not yet.
Dara took a job at small baptist church outside of town, as their youth minister. Dara was kind and motherly and very fashionable. Seriously, she looked stylish in everything she wore. I’m pretty sure she could rock high heels in almost any outfit imaginable. Youth ministries have the tendency to reflect their ministers. So the first time I got invited to visit her youth group I had full expectations of seeing a group of preppy girls and athletic guys. Abercrombie and Fitch meets Jesus Freak, that was my assumption. I was so very wrong.
Sure there were some preps and jocks, but this group was a eclectic as any I had ever seen. The group ran the entire gamut of the high school social classes. I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t look anything like Dara, because Dara, it turns out, looked like Jesus. She was Jesus to those kids.
A small group study grew out of that youth group. Dara anchored it. Once a week a group of youth met up in a trailer park to have bible study. They called their group C.O.R.E.. Dara’s schedule, like most seminary students, got pretty busy and she asked me (invited me) to help out. I taught some lessons for the group, led a few bible studies and discussions. Before I knew it I was a regular, and those kids, to their credit, let me right into their family.
I remember the day they blew my mind. It was before the bible study had started. Some youth were jumping on a trampoline, others standing on the porch talking. 20 youth just hanging out, waiting to study the bible. The sheer beauty of that moment, and their genuine fellowship, rocked my world. Every week they gathered, no music, no band, no church building, no media shout, no fancy space to entertain them. They gathered every week in an empty trailer. They walked, drove, and had their parents drop them off in a trailer park.
To be with one another and talk about the bible and grow in their faith.
And it hit me. They were a church.
A beautiful, young, teenaged church and Dara was their pastor and I got to be a part of it. All of the sudden being a minister to youth seemed like the most humbling, yet rewarding adventure one could ever take. That day I decided to send my resume out for youth ministry openings.
I moved to Alabama on Feb 14, 2008. I led my last bible study at C.O.R.E. with Dara on Feb 13, 2008. That night, while choking back tears, I thanked those kids and Dara for opening my eyes and helping me to hear God’s call on my life. I am still so very thankful.
I have so much to learn still. Honestly I feel like more of a rookie than when I started. The longer I’m in the journey the grander the mission becomes. Kind of like reaching the mountain top only to see that the trail continues back down the other side of the mountain. Youth Ministry is an all encompassing pilgrimage of faith, one I am honored to be a part of.