Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hang On

One of my heroes in ministry was killed in a car accident in 2003. I had just returned from one of the annual conferences that his ministry hosted every year, and like the thousands and thousands of other Youth Pastors he and his group encouraged along the way I was shocked and saddened!

Mike Yaconelli was his name and he was known for being radical, crazy, fun-loving, challenging, wild, envelope pushing and down-right awesome!

Every Youth Pastor I knew gobbled up his resources like candy and couldn't wait to put them into practice in their ministries.

I guess looking back on the Mike Yaconelli era of YM the thing that inspired me the most about him was that he was so counter-cultural, so anti-establishment and so "little-guy" in YM uplifitng.

I came across an article that he wrote many years ago that I remember sending to my youth leaders as a way of encouraging them that the ministry they were involved with was making a difference even though the rest of the church may or may not "get it".

I recall saying something like "God get's it, He's proud of you and the students you've impacted for eternity thank you as well!"

So, I thought I'd re-post it again, and pray today just like I did over 12 years ago when I first sent it out that Mike Yaconelli's rant would inspire and challenge the tired, doubting, beleaguered and often mis-understood youth leader to "Just Hang On"...

You Just Hang On
by: Mike Yaconelli

I don't know why volunteers volunteer.

I don't understand why most professional youth workers decide to stay in ministry. Most of you are underpaid, unappreciated, disrespected, mistreated, and abandoned.

Oh, I know there are exceptions. There's a small minority of youth workers who are paid adequately and treated well, but the rest—the majority—are beaten down, burned out, and constantly criticized.

We just finished our three national youth worker conventions, and I was once again made painfully aware of how badly most youth workers are treated by the churches they serve.

All about the Numbers
One youth worker told me his job is now in jeopardy because his senior pastor recently went to a mega-church seminar and decided they're now going to become a mega-church, too. The pastor returned and announced, "You need to get with the program or think about going somewhere else. Your youth group is way too small, so you need to step up to the plate."

Now here's the crazy truth. In the majority of churches, if your youth group numbers run around ten percent of the total congregation, you're normal. Ten thousand in your church? One thousand kids. One hundred in your congregation? Ten kids. It really doesn't matter if you're Ed Schmuck or Doug Fields; ten percent ain't bad.

Sadly, for many churches it's all about numbers, and the youth workers in these churches end up judging their own worth and ministries by how many kids attend their events. Lots of kids? You're doing a great job. Few kids? You're worthless.

But for many youth workers, it isn't the lack of numbers that's killing you, it's the constant criticism that eats at your soul and makes you wonder why you're doing this.

Constant Criticisms

You're bringing in the wrong kids. "You were hired to minister to the children of our church, not to bring in 'riff-raff' from the outside. Those kids could have a negative influence on the good kids we have." Hmmm. I thought the wrong kids were the right kids. I didn't realize youth workers were hired just to baby-sit the church kids so mom and dad could have some time to themselves.

The kids misbehave. They're too loud (so is their music), they don't sit still in church, or they don't even bother to come. They're rude, and they often interrupt or ask disruptive questions. And they dress weird. Can't you talk to them about the way they dress, especially for church?

You have too many programs. Oh, they want you to have lots of options, lots of things for the kids to do, as long as it doesn't interfere with sports, drama, ballet, SATs, college visits, etc. Any time there's a conflict between a church camp and football camp, you're supposed to understand which is more important…and it isn't the church camp. When one youth worker suggested that spending a weekend thinking about God was more important than the regional finals in swimming, she was told she needed to get her priorities straight.

The youth don't respect property. How many times do you get in trouble because of a stain on the carpet, a mark on the wall, trash in the parking lot, or cigarette butts in the Jones Memorial Rose Garden? Or kids sitting on the "holy" furniture, lying on the floor, or leaning against the wall? I'm sorry, but I thought the building was meant to be used. I thought stains, marks, and kids all over the place were good things. I didn't realize that protecting the building was more important than using it.

The kids are dangerous. "Why, I was almost knocked over by a skateboarder. Can't you do something about them?" Yeah, I guess you should tell the skater kids not to come, so the churchy folks will feel more comfortable. Bummer, too, because I thought the fact that skateboarders want to be at our church would be a cause for celebration—not a nuisance to be eliminated.

You make mistakes. Duh. Of course you make mistakes. That's what happens when you follow Jesus with passion. Mistakes are part of success. Mistakes validate your ministry, because it means you're taking risks.

No wonder so many youth workers call it quits after 18 months. No wonder volunteers decide to un-volunteer. What's a wonder is how many youth workers decide to stick it out. You keep going even when your budgets are cut, your salaries lowered, and your integrity questioned. Your lives have been ruined by your callings. What can you do? You just hang on because…well…because Jesus hung on (if you know what I mean).

I'm in awe of youth workers, and I think Jesus is, too. I just wish the Church felt the same.

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