When I started youth ministry, I was a text book youth pastor and a dang good one too (in my humble opinion). I had learned from great youth pastors that had poured into me, and I just enjoyed hanging out with kids. So, at least in my mind, it wasn’t all that hard. I went where the kids were. If they had a game I would show up and watch them. I went to their school lunches and made friends with their friends. I planned overnighters, Friday night events, and hung out with students for most of my free time. Not really because I had to, but because I wanted to. That, plus some good games and ultimately pointing them to a relationship with Christ made me a pretty good youth pastor.
Then I got a girlfriend, and my time was a bit more divided. My passion for student ministry was the same, but this relationship was also serious. After a while I got used to the balance and so did she. Fortunately I was dating someone that too loved youth ministry, who eventually came on staff where I worked. That made it real easy! The balance and juggling didn’t really take that much work.
Then I married that girlfriend and she became my wife. We moved to a new town and a new youth ministry. What made it easy is that she continued to not only support my ministry but was one of my best volunteers. She led a group of girls in a life group that she still loves and prays for to this day. We will be attending one of their weddings this summer. She was also becoming a teacher, so she was at school, getting her credential, and working later hours then I was. I was a rockstar youth pastor. I lived by the one high school in the town, kids would swing by whenever, I was out till all hours of the night hanging out with kids and leaders. I was still a dang good youth pastor.
Then my wife and I had a child. This is when the wheels started to fall off how I did ministry and what I was good at. Sure, I had made some mid-course corrections as we moved towns and got married but for the most part, I had just gotten very good at doing what I loved.
Over the past 6 years I have added two more children to the equation, and to make things worse, my favorite and best volunteer is now landlocked at home. Kids really make you pretty uncool for a while in the world of youth ministry. Sure they are cute, but kids don’t travel well, they throw up often, and have you seen how much poop they create? It was somewhere during these years that I realized that what I was doing before wasn’t working, and something was going to have to give. Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” I had to do something different if I was going to expect survival of the ministry I love with the wife I love and the kids I love. I needed a new pitch…
I didn’t play a lot of sports growing up, but baseball was one I played and enjoyed. I always wanted to be a pitcher, but I had more of the catcher frame and attitude. Even though I wasn’t a pitcher, I worked with them on different pitches. Speed it up, slow it down, curve it, change it up. And every time it was the same. When they tried adding a new pitch to their arsenal, it was pretty clumsy…but it got better.
Same thing applied to me. What I had been throwing wasn’t working anymore and I needed to develop a new pitch in the world of youth ministry. I still loved the game, but my old pitch had lost its punch, and was actually doing more damage than good. So I tried some new things. A different meeting schedule. New events. Less overnighters. More one-on-ones. More time with leaders. What I did was less important than the fact that I evolved. I was adapting to my situation and responding. My wife took notice and was grateful. My kids saw me more. I got a little more sleep, so I too was happier. Was it clumsy at the start? For sure. Try throwing with your other hand. How does it look? Pretty silly, but if you do it time and time again, there will come a point when you are better at it, and the ball gets there better and faster. It just takes some time.
What I have found is a few things:
- I miss the days of being single and available at a moments notice to give pretty much everything to my students.
- The ministry that I do now includes more people and allows others to be the ones on the front line seeing the life change and developing the relationships. I get less glory, but prayerfully God gets more.
- I have a depth and richness to my experience and years that only comes over time, so though I miss 20 year-old youth pastor Jeff, I am able to offer something I never had before: the wisdom of a husband and father, and a guy who has had 37 years of life experience.
It has NEVER been easy to change up my pitch, and I have had to do it more than once. I moved out of the Central Valley seven months ago into Orange County. Better change that pitch again! Seasons change. Jobs change. Churches change. And guess what? Students change. So that means that the old tricks I used in 1993 wouldn’t work now anyways. (That being said, I WILL take my students to a DC Talk/Free at Last reunion when it happens. That is timeless)
May you be brave enough to add to your tool belt. Hold onto what you are good at, and begin to bring new gifts, skills, and abilities into your ministry. Not only will others benefit from it, but you will stay in this “sport” for the long haul. Play ball!