People often ask me what I do. When I tell them I am a youth minister, they usually ask me again–”So…what do you actually do??” When I explain my job, they often ask me WHY I do what I do. Why youth ministry? Why do I work nights and weekends, often sacrifice my Sundays and sometimes miss out on family vacations? And I’ll be honest, there are days when I ask myself the same questions. But, I don’t have to look very far to find the answers. The young people that I work with remind me that the rewards of working in youth ministry are far greater than the demands.
Each summer, our high school youth spend a week in San Antonio serving an inner-city community. This past summer, we had a very interesting situation, which led to one of the most profound experiences of my youth ministry career and possibly even my life so far.
We had been in San Antonio for about 3 days, staying on campus at our host church, sleeping on classroom floors with limited AC. On this particular day, we had just returned from taking showers at the local indoor swimming facility, when a member of the parish staff informed me that there was another youth group coming to stay on campus for the next few days. They were planning to sleep in the upstairs area of the community center, which was a separate building from where we were staying. However, the AC in the upstairs area was broken, and it was June–in Texas. He asked if we would mind if this group would share our sleeping space, to which I of course, said “No, we wouldn’t mind at all!” with a happy face. Of course, I then had to share this news with our young people, some of whom were less than excited. They had just gotten comfortable with their uncomfortable living arrangements, and were now being asked to get uncomfortable again, and make room for a bunch of perfect strangers to join them as roommates.
I noticed that as the day went on, the kids kept asking me when this “other group” was coming. I kept assuring our youth that the group would be there soon and that when they arrived, we would figure everything out. We were all in the dining room, playing games and hanging out, when we noticed a big charter bus pull up outside of the church. I said nothing. I gave no instructions. In fact, I didn’t have time to, because immediately, every single one of our teens stopped what they were doing, stood up, and ran outside towards the bus. They greeted these newcomers with so much energy, excitement, and love. I stood in the parking lot in disbelief as I watched them all introduce themselves, grab their new friends’ luggage, and start to bring them to their rooms and around campus.
I knew that they weren’t thrilled about these newcomers. I knew that they were tired and just wanted to sleep in their own rooms without a new level of added discomfort. But in that moment, I also knew one more thing. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that each one of these young people knew and understood what it meant to serve. What it meant to show love to someone else—selfless, unconditional love. They understood what they were being called to do, not just during our planned service projects in San Antonio, but during this “unplanned” and unexpected moment—to step outside of themselves, their comfort zones, their own desires, and their own plans, and to trust that God was leading them to something greater.
It was one of those moments that God chose to remind me why I “do what I do.” This moment also gave me hope. Hope – not only for our youth, and for our Church, but for our world. The world offers us a lot—a lot of good, and a lot of not-so-good. A lot of truth, and a lot of lies. A lot of purpose, and a lot of distractions. And as Pope Benedict XVI said, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” In this moment I saw our teens step out of comfort and into greatness.
Pope Francis expounded on that statement during a World Youth Day address in Poland last year. He warned our youth about the dangers of falling into what he called “sofa-happiness.” He encouraged them to not be “couch potatoes” and to not get lost in comfort. He also said this to the youth:
“Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes, and to set out on new and uncharted paths.”
When I read Pope Francis’ words, I couldn’t help but think of these young men and women and their acts of courage, readiness, and faith, not only on this mission trip, but beyond. I thank God every day for gracing me with the gift of these opportunities to experience His love through our youth. THIS is why I “do what I do.”
Why do you do what you do? What moments has God used to “tap you on the shoulder” and remind you of your passion and purpose in ministering to young people?