For the past almost 4 years I have been the youth minister for a group of about 60 youth. Considering what all has gone on with my son in the past few months and some other things God has spoken to us, we have been led to leave this position for me to stay at home.
Sunday is my last day.
This is both a terribly sad time for me and also an exciting time. I am excited about the next leg of the journey God will be taking my family on. I have been blessed to look back at the past 4 years of ministry and see how students and adults have grown. Friendships have been made, bonds created. Cords have been woven that will link us together for life. I will always be their youth pastor for those years. They will always be my students. I could not have asked for a better few years.
Don't get me wrong, we've had some tough times. One or two (or three or four!) students who constantly kept their toe on the line. Most of them finally just jumping over the line at some point and never looking back.
Drama, drama, drama. Where there are teenage girls, there's drama. One time I was listening to some of my (then Jr. High) girls tell me all about the latest boy issues with their particular group of friends. I realized I was old and uncool when the following conversation went down:
Me: "Girls, the world doesn't revolve around boys".
Jr. High girl: "Paige, yes it does!! To us, it does!!"
Me: (sheepishly realizing they are right and I have a lot of learning to do).
We lost a student who had just begun his freshman year in an auto accident. I was actually leaving the cardiologist's office when I got the phone call from a fellow youth worker. As if my heart wasn't hurting...it broke that moment, and I am sure that it won't ever really be whole again.
Or the morning that I saw on the news that someone with the same name as a student of mine had been critically injured in an accident and med-flighted to a local hospital. Youth workers and parents began calling my house and I knew nothing. Yes, it was. Yes, the pastor and I had a long conversation about why he didn't call me (the student's mom thought he did) and we are still friends.
I've sent countless birthday cards, taken soup by when kids had out wisdom teeth or tonsils, and attended games and band concerts and such. I even let one of my students who only had her permit drive my car once. For those of you who know me, this was a huge thing for me!
These students have pushed me and tried me and loved me and encouraged me and helped me up and challenged me and helped me to grow and always kept me on my toes. Because of these students I have done some crazy things I said I would never do like:
-ride a roller coaster (screaming like a big idiot the whole time)
-actually get out into the ocean (where you have to swim and not just stand)
-ride in a hot air balloon
-open myself up to having my heart broken because I loved these students with everything I've had.
These past few years have been the hardest of my life and the most rewarding. I wouldn't take anything for the time I've had with them. I've spent the past couple of weeks trying to get in my final lessons and words of wisdom. Sort of a "Paige's Top Ten List" if you will.
In a conversation with a fellow youth worker just a few weeks ago about something totally random, he said something that stuck out to me. I think we do this all too easily in youth ministry. He said:
"Do you know how sometimes we just get to singing a song, but we never actually listen to the words? I was doing that - singing the song and then I really listened to the words and realized how amazing they were".
I realized this has been my time with my youth. Yes, I had heard part of the words from time and time again, but I will admit. I got caught up in taking care of my responsibilities and getting the job done and completing the tasks that I didn't always hear the words. If I was just starting here's what I'd do:
-No matter how much time it takes, learn one or two little facts that makes each student special (their favorite band, their hobbies, their favorite food). Even the friends that students bring in occassionally. Every student. Not just the ones who come to your stuff most of the times. The ones who don't might start once they see you taking an interest in them for them.
-Be sure those facts come up on a regular basis. This will help the students know you really care about them and will give you a platform to learn even more about them which gives you more opportunity to truly minister to their needs.
-Learn about their families. Today students are more and more busy. Learn what is precious family time and not to be touched and learn how you can involve their parents in the youth ministry in ways that go beyond just chaperoning a lock-in.
-Realize that we never know what is going on behind closed doors. There have been times when I have had to minister with a family who was the "perfect church family" in the midst of some really tough situations that no one else was privy to. Sometimes, not even my pastor. We must never assume that everything is OK, just because it looks that way. This is how the Titanic sank, this is how accidents happen. This is how students and families fall apart.
-Spend more time being with the students than being up in front of the students. I think our students would learn more if we spent our time just pouring out what God has taught us in more informal ways that trying to teach them a lesson with all the latest resources.
Well, these are just a few ramblings of mine. I know Sunday will be a tough day. I am going in a few hours to clean out my office. I can't even talk about Sunday without crying. I will be a wreck.
But I have been honored and humbled and blessed to serve this church and these students and most of all my Amazing Father God. I will never be the same...