The Bearded Lunch Lady


By Jeff Lowry

Youth ministry is hard. Lets just be real for a minute. It’s hard and at times it sucks the life out of you. Not always, thankfully; but sometimes. At least for me. But it doesn’t have to. Over my 25 years of youth ministry, to borrow a phase from some insurance company’s commercial, I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two.

One of those things I’ve learned is that you really need to connect with students in their natural habitat—the school campus. That takes on a lot of different faces, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other on-campus Christian clubs. Most of us have done something like that in the past, and sometimes they worked and other times it was about the pizza or popsicles.

But what if there was another way to connect on campus that wasn’t a club; that wasn’t limited to the 20 or 30 kids who came, but instead gave you access to the entire student body.

I recently started a brand new position at a church in an suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. In this community we are the only church. There are two elementary/junior high schools and one high school. For whatever reason, there has never been a successful presence on those campuses by our church or any of the neighboring community’s churches. To just start a Christian club of some sort was going to be a big struggle. I had reached out to people at those schools whom I believed to be connectors at the schools and received no response.

So I began to pray about how I might crack that shell of campus ministry in a new town. Being a sort of missionary youth pastor, I was encouraged by my pastor to try to volunteer at the schools. Brilliant! How do I do that? What could I do? I didn’t know! Being in a new capacity in a new town, ministering to everything from birth to 24 years old, I did the only thing I could do—ask the church lady who knows everything and everyone who to talk to!

I reached out to both of the elementary/junior high schools and the high school with my offer to help in any way they could use help. I explained in detail who I was, were I was from and the reason I wanted to serve those age groups. And I waited for email responses. One of the elementary schools jumped on my offer. They fingerprinted me and got FBI clearance for the school district. Then I was given carte blanche for how I wanted to volunteer. So I figured, youth ministry equals food, so naturally, lunch duty! I became the lunch lady at the school!

Y’all, it is by far the coolest moment of my week, hanging out in the cafeteria and the playground with several hundred kids, most of whom think I am a legend because of my long beard. But the best part of volunteering is seeing some of my church’s students at lunch. They greet me and then get to share with their friends who I am and where I’m from. But more than that, I love to hear them start conversations that end with, “well you should come to my church and see!”

I’ve never quite thought of ministry like this being effective. I always thought it had to be a great message and time in worship, and those things are great. But the truth is, this is working way better to reach out to the entire population of this one school. As far as the other elementary school and high school, they have yet to get back to me. Oh well: their loss for now (but hopefully not for long). I need to spend lunch with my tribe. You should really try it if you can. You might be surprised.