Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Leaving The Table So Youth Ministry Happens

After our last Wednesday night junior high gathering, I went home perplexed. I had finished off the night hanging out with a few of the guys in my small group, playing basketball and chatting about life. I was accompanied by another leader in our small group, Nate, who is one of the better volunteers I've ever had. Nate is a guy who gets it, who lives and breathes ministry with these junior high guys.

One of the guys was dealing with...well...girl stuff. Nate and I were both talking with him, but the conversation seemed to be on the shallow end of things. That is, until I stood up to go fetch a basketball for one of the other guys. Upon my return, I realized that this guy had opened up with Nate, that as soon as I left the conversation he was willing to dive into the deep end of what was really on his mind.

I realized that Nate was his youth pastor, not me. Sure, I was the "youth pastor" in that I was the guy who talked for a long time on stage about Jesus, organized summer camps, and gave the rules for dodgeball. I'm the guy with the theological degree and the pastoral title. But Nate had been invited into a relational realm that I simply could not enter at this time. No matter how many times I reminded many of these guys that I loved them, no matter how many conversations we had, until they decided that my title of "pastor" didn't mean I was going to tattle to their parents--or God--about them, Nate would be able to lovingly guide them better than I could. Better ministry could happen once I left the table.

As I drove home that night, I was initially frustrated. I should be the one discipling these guys! After all, I'm the professional! But as God convicted me of my pastoral hubris, I recalled this passage in 1 Corinthians 3:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
What is Joel? What is Nate? Only servants through whom the Lord shares his love and grace with junior highers. Neither one of us is anything, but only God, who is making the guys in our small group grow. It is both a humbling and freeing ministry truth to know that it's not about me getting recognized as a great pastor, but God's work in students' hearts. I'm so grateful for Nate and all of my volunteer team. Through them, we have 20 youth pastors in our junior high group, and I'm stoked for how God is using them in students' lives--and mine!

Who are the volunteers that "get it" in your ministry? Give them a shout-out in the comments!


  1. Nate drank your milkshake.

  2. @ Anonymous, Nate would drink my milkshake. ;)

  3. Oh man... who gets it? I love my parents that are shepherding our students... Cyndi and Holli do so good with their girls. Sydney and Emily get it with their groups. Tommy and Brett invest in their guys. =
    Ok... my whole team rocks! Just like you, I sometimes just have to walk away from the table.

  4. What a great observation! This is the real reason we need to call other leaders into our ministries who have different skills and gifts than those we possess as "the pastor."

  5. @ Josh, I love that you love your team. They're pretty blessed to have ya! :)

    @Brian, it makes one wonder how much more ministry would happen if I would just get out of the way and empower others to be the ministers God has made them. Humbling thought!