Celebrating Those Who Are “Not in Youth Ministry”

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Ross Carper

I recently changed jobs at my church, shifting my ministry role, and I’ve caught myself saying it a few times now: “I’m not in youth ministry anymore.” It’s been sort of a shocking thing to hear out of my mouth, since I’ve been involved in youth ministry pretty much since I was a “youth” myself.

But it’s not true, really. I’m still engaged with teenagers, just in different ways.

It’s not true for a lot of people around me, either. There are so many who are “not in youth ministry” as a job title or even an official volunteer role, but are having a huge impact on young people around them. Today I want to celebrate a pretty obvious example: teachers.

People of faith who work with hundreds of teenagers every day at school are absolutely in ministry. They usually don’t get to profess Christ with words very often, but they get so much time with students that they can’t hide their identity. For better or worse, their lives play out in relationship with teenagers: their love, their priorities, their passions, and the simple act of consistently caring for their students during an often-turbulent time of life… it all speaks volumes.

Once, a well-intentioned friend was trying to affirm my calling as a youth director by saying something like, “You are so clearly called to what you do. If you were to stop and become a teacher or something it would really be a loss for the kingdom.” The funny thing is, he said this right in front of both our wives, who happen to be teachers who radically affect their students’ lives! He caught himself and clarified: there are some unique gifts that help a full-time youth director be effective, but there certainly isn’t a kingdom/non-kingdom divide between the two professions (or any two professions). The question is: what do you do with any role for the sake of God and others?

My wife Autumn is in the process of starting a “Dumbledore’s Army” club at the public high school where she teaches math. In the fifth Harry Potter book, the DA is a community of students who come together to fight against injustice and darkness in their world, and that’s exactly what Autumn’s club will be… with a bit of wizarding nerdiness mixed in, too. By the way, she honestly doesn’t have time to lead this club.

But it will be worth it. It will lead to new relationships, and if appropriate, some of these relationships may even cross over into settings where deeper things can be discussed. Perhaps even some of them will discover our church’s high school group, which is both very open to all teenagers in our city, and very focused on how Jesus calls us to actively love all of our neighbors. Over the years I can count just as many students Autumn has affected deeply as a teacher as she has in official “youth ministry” roles she has held. The key is: when she isn’t in one of those official roles, she is still relational with teenagers, but also is intentional about how she might collaborate with those who are “officially” youth ministers, for the sake of her students. And I love that about her.

If you work with young people in some “non youth ministry” capacity, remind yourself not to draw those lines in ink. You might be right where you need to be, with all kinds of opportunities in front of you.

If you are a professional youth worker, think of some ways you might partner and collaborate with people who are doing ministry just as much as you are, though in different settings.

As for me, I’m still doing a bit of classic youth ministry stuff: still meeting with teenagers for coffee to talk about life/God/relationships, still praying for them and seeking their well being. But job-wise, I’m challenged by a new role, which is coordinating service and missional engagement for our church. This is a huge opportunity to blur the lines between “youth ministry” and everything else inside our church community. Actively living out our faith and loving our neighbors together is pretty much the best way I can think of to have a healthy intergenerational faith community. One specific thing I’m working on in partnership with World Vision and our new middle school ministry director is taking this 30 Hour Famine thing we’ve been doing, and broadening it to our whole church community (and our city, too) in fresh new ways.

Here’s to doing youth ministry in 2017 from all kinds of different angles, and doing God stuff together that actively loves the poor, the hungry, and the marginalized, at home and around the world.