I hate to do this, but I was able to be with Josh the other night and it he reminded me again of the importance of simply building and nurturing relationships. This is a post from a year ago. I hope it encourages you as Josh always challenges me.
Life 2 Life
Every youth group has that kid. You know the one. The student who is an accident waiting to happen. For me Josh was that kid. My first real exposure to him was at Erlanger Hospital right after he broke his back. That was just the beginning. I’ve actually seen him get hit in the thigh with a golf ball. You could read the word “titlelist” on his upper thigh for weeks. Beyond the accidents Josh was a fun kid who was faithful to the Lord and to the ministry. There are so many stories I would love to tell about this student. Sometimes just saying the name Josh makes me laugh.
At one point his dad forbid the two of us to be anywhere close to large bodies of water including lakes, rivers and oceans. With Josh I’ve been stranded on a small boat in the Atlantic in an intense thunderstorm. On a separate occasion I was actually with him when he was run over by a boat. Because of shared trauma our hearts will forever been connected.
Josh is now 26. It’s really kind of miraculous the boy is still alive. Last year I was privileged to attend his wedding and meet the woman he will spend the rest of his life loving well. I’m so proud of the man he’s become.
A couple of weeks ago I found out his dad died suddenly. I was in the area so we got to spend some really neat time together. We cried and laughed as we told stories about his dad and how awesome of a man he was. His Father’s nickname was “Boss” and he lived out that name with with great passion.
Towards the end of our time together the subject kind of changed. Sitting across the table from one another we began to talk about my future and what I should do when I grow up. (I was recently in a job transition) It’s funny how things kind of come around. My relationship with Josh had always been about me encouraging him and giving him spiritual mentoring, but now the tables were turned. The student had now become the teacher and it was time for me to sit and listen.
As we talked about what I should do next in my life he said something so interesting to me. “David, I would love to see you in a small church instead of a large church”. Of course I asked him why. What he said next was a golden reminder to any of us who love students. “There are many things I remember about being in the youth group, I remember you used to talk about the woman at the well a lot” (I really love that story) “But what I remember most are the times you and I spent together. That’s what had the biggest impact on me. If you’re in a large church with a large youth group I’m afraid kids won’t get that opportunity.”
I know I’m preaching to the choir here but it reminded me once again that youth ministry is the ministry of “being there.” Student ministry is the abiding ministry of Jesus in our lives and connecting our lives and hearts to students. I’m not really sure what I did in those “one on one” times. In fact I’m pretty sure they weren’t that intentional most the time. The reality is ministry is more about who you are and where you are than what you do. Paul said this about his own ministry.
8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
Let the words “we loved you so much” sink in for minute. Is there any relationship in your ministry that would fall into the “loving so much” category? Paul didn’t have to force himself to live life to life with people, it was the natural overflow of his affection towards those to whom he was ministering.
Sure, Paul taught and preached the truth to people but he shared more than words, he shared his life. My guess is that people he served are a little like Josh. The truth they saw in Paul was at least as powerful as the truth they heard from Paul.
So, what does it mean to share your life? If ministry is about being there then sharing your life has to be defined as time connecting with those who are under your care. That’s the main thing Josh remembered about his time in the youth ministry. It wasn’t the incredible expository teaching I delivered every week but was the backpacking trip or the time on the golf course.
Why is it that for some of us taking the time to be with students can be so challenging? Could it be that so often our performance is judged by what’s done in the large group setting? Many times the greatest hope and desire of parents and church leaders is that their kids won’t gripe about having to go to church. They believe that if students go to church they won’t have sex before marriage and they’ll stay off drugs. And isn’t that what student ministry is all about?
It’s easy to get confused about what makes ministry successful. Effective ministry is much more than shaping the behavior of kids. Jesus did a lot of up front teaching but he changed the world through the 12 men with which he lived. Please don’t here me say that the teaching of the Word and our large gatherings are not important, they are. My plea however is that we would remember and embrace that life-to-life ministry must be the foundation of student ministry and for that matter all ministry.
As we wrap our minds around this simple reminder, let’s consider a couple of questions.
Is your life worth sharing?
Paul was passionate about sharing his life with people. Our lives are only worth sharing if we are daily being transformed by the power of God. This means it must be our priority to savor God daily in personal worship. Time feasting on the Word and crying out to God in prayer is the only chance we have to share a life with students that will enable them to go deeper.
How do you judge success?
We have all experienced the joy and thrill of walking into our youth room and seeing it almost full or overflowing. Do we view our success by how many students are showing up at one place at one time? That can be an indicator of success, but if it’s the primary indicator you will invest most of your time, energy and resource in the large gathering and rob life-to-life ministry.
Do you have space in your life for relational ministry?
If we believe Jesus, Paul and Josh we know it’s so important to create times of one-on-one or one-on-a-few opportunities. A ministry of “being there” is about being available but also being intentional about having time to spend with students. Let’s take a look at our calendars to see how much time we really have set aside for these life to life encounters with students.
I’m so thankful my friend Josh reminded me of the simple truth that ministry is about relationship. I love being with Josh. I’m thinking about scheduling a deep sea fishing trip for us. Just for old times sake!