unseen struggles in youth ministry
After church today, one of my students smiled and said, “Hey Doug, I’ve been clean for a year now.” Knowing how important a one year anniversary is to a drug addict, I said, “That’s great! I’m so proud of you Stephen. That’s really big…way to go.” He said, “Thanks…now all I’ve got to do is stop smoking pot.” Huh? Was he kidding me?
As I pursued my confusion I found out that Stephen stopped using Crystal Meth one year ago but has yet to stop using Marijuana. This is a kid who never misses church, he’s a great kid and he’s always serving. He’s one of the last to leave the church because he’s picking up trash, stacking chairs, and helping us clean the room. I’m always excited to see him because he’s one of the few students who makes positive comments about my message. Unfortunately, I don’t know him real well, but I get the impression that he has a desire to be closer to Jesus. I like this guy a lot and yet I never knew he was smoking pot every day!
I know what you’re probably thinking as you read this, “Wow Fields, you’re a real sharp youth worker. A regular attendee in your ministry smoking pot every day and you don’t know it. Maybe you should read one of my books titled, Get A Clue.” I know, I agree and I often wonder how I’ve lasted so long in youth ministry.
While I may not always see the signs in students’ lives everyday, I have recognized a clear truth in youth ministry over the years – and that is – even after Stephen kicks his pot addiction he won’t be free and clear. There will be other obstacles to him being a fully devoted follower of Christ. With most students there’s always some pain and/or problem looming in their life. This isn’t a Stephen issue, it’s a teenage issue.
If it’s not Crystal Meth, it’s pot.
If it’s not pot, it’s alcohol.
If it’s not alcohol, cheating.
If it’s not cheating, it’s lying.
If it’s not lying, it’s anger.
If it’s not anger, it’s fear.
If it’s not fear, it’s family problems.
The reality is, life hurts! And teenage life seems to be dramatized and amplified and kids need an audience and an ear. Every student in your youth group is a day away or one decision removed from the pain that’s hiding around the corner ready to invade their life.
That’s why youth ministry is so important! Because of the Stephens’ in our lives.
It’s also because of the “church kids” who seem to have it all together but are too fearful to admit their pain or to look inside their heart to see what’s hurting. Don’t be fooled, they hurt too. Most students may not have addictions like Stephen, but their hurt is real. This is why churches must find caring adults like you to come alongside teenagers to listen, love, and journey with them.
Bottom line: kids need adults. They need a neutral adult who has the ears to hear the joy of quitting pot, the tender eyes to notice when braces come off, and the mouths to share words of encouragement. These are qualities of a life changer.
- If you’re considering becoming a youth worker…thank you…you are needed.
- If you’re about to give up because you don’t think you are needed…don’t…you are.
- If you’re a youth ministry veteran…thank you for staying with the journey.
The school year is about to begin and along with new beginnings and fresh faces come new needs and pains that are dying to be heard, embraced, and helped.
I wish we had more volunteers at Saddleback Church to be with kids when their life hurts. If you’re struggling to try to meet all the needs of the Stephens in your church…so am I…I get it…I can relate…it’s so frustrating to have hurting kids and not enough adults. I hate it that a kid in my group can smoke pot every day and no one knows because no one is close enough to ask, listen, and care. It’s at moments like today when I come home from church, after teaching a great message, and yet feel like a failure because of Stephen’s addiction and my inability to find enough adults to care.
But, I know tomorrow I’ll feel different. I’ll feel challenged. I’ll feel inspired to help Stephen journey through his addiction and watch him replace his need for pot with his need for Jesus –to trade a substance for salvation. It will happen…that’s why I love youth ministry…God using average people to love teenagers and point them to the life-changing power of God
The journey continues…I’m glad we are in this together.