Confessions of a Youth Minister

Sometimes in ministry, we seem to get it all right. Those good days where we want to scream to the mountain tops that a young person's life was transformed through youth ministry at our church. Wow!

Then as quick as those days come, another one smacks you right in the face with someone who has lost their way, or another job has been added to your many other roles in parish ministry, or maybe (a personal favorite of) umm…I have no clue what I am making for dinner for my family. Life in ministry is rewarding and challenging yet being honest with yourself is sometimes the hardest part.

My oldest daughter is in sixth grade and is getting ready to write a book report.This brought my thoughts in helping her with the classic approach of 4 W's and 1 H.

This got me thinking. Can coming to terms with the ups and downs of ministry really be as simple as a book report? Can the crazy thoughts and rewarding parts in ministry really come down to this? Confession…yes, I am thinking of ministry while I am supposed to be helping my daughter with her ideas on her book report.

So here it goes.My random thoughts and memories of ups and downs in my ministry – book-report style!

Who?

My youth minister growing up was named Michelle.Though she was loving and honest, I was really not as invested in connecting with her and the youth ministry until she showed up at my high school graduation. I remember standing there taking family photo after family photo in my gold cap and gown then seeing her appear. To this day, I remember asking her, "Why are you here?" Her response was a youth ministry classic, "…to see you graduate!" An overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude came over me and I will never forget it. 

Confession - yet after 16 years in youth ministry, I wonder who have I failed to show up for. How many programs, rallies, retreats and prayer services have I helped to create - all the while overlooking those who really need God's presence through me? We are often so diligent to honor safe environment policies and not be alone with a young person. But, have we found ways to be there for them and identify who really needs to feel loved?

What?

Yikes, what did I just say? Did I really say that out loud? It had to have been the Holy Spirit, right? Oh no, a hush has fallen over the crowds.

Have you ever felt that dread you may have said the wrong thing? A quick bad word slips out before you can catch it. A Scripture verse you thought you knew that a persistent teenager is now questioning you on. Being human is awesome but being human in ministry is sometimes like a microscope has been placed on you. The pressure can make you feel as if every word you say represents exactly what the Church says.

Confession – yes, I think I really did say that.I feel like I used to apologize a lot in ministry if I didn't understand something or if I said the wrong thing to possibly offend someone (usually parents). However, I realize now that my voice is me. It makes me a vessel in which others want to be around. Sure, I said damn it when I dropped something during a retreat (and maybe the microphone increased the volume of what I said). But, I also sang the words to a song I don't personally care for at Mass because I know what I say matters.I'm learning to be okay with comic failure from time to time.

Where?

It's a wonderful time of year as summer ends and the kids are off to college. Sometimes, it is a few of my great leaders and I am beyond proud. Sometimes, it is way too many of my leaders and I feel sad as if my own children are spreading their wings and leaving home. I can only hope the roots my husband and I gave them are going to be good enough.

Confession - they are not my kids. Year after year, I feel like I have gotten too attached.My own children (who are now 11 and 8) have grown up in ministry and church. The teens have been their babysitters, they have led vacation bible school for them, and they have been to our favorite pizza place with us on a Sunday night too many times to count.

Where they go is really up to them, and where ministry takes us is up to God. Where will their love for God shine as they grow in college, in life, in their new city? I find myself in an endless tension of turning this one over completely to God. Sure, they are not my kids, but they were my kids in ministry and they are always a child of God. Knowing that they belong to God is really the only thing that lets my heart rest. I trust in knowing where they are is where God has led them to be.

Why?

Born and raised in the lights of Las Vegas has been the best thing ever. Restaurants are open late, it is warm and sunny, there is no such thing as last call, faith is bright and abundant, and my city has Jesus.

Though the ads in the airport and on TV may say something slightly different, Vegas for me has always been home. I often joke with my priest that while my friends spent their 20's at night clubs and on the Vegas strip, I spent mine at church in ministry. He would always laugh because our parish is literally two miles from the strip. The lights and skyline are constantly in view. A phone hangs on the church wall with a listing of all the locals cab companies to help the many visitors to Vegas get to and from our parish for Mass.

Confession - why don't I praise our city more often.We were in San Jose for a youth ministry conference and I overheard others talking negatively about Las Vegas. They went on about how this conference could never be held in Vegas. Why didn't I say anything? I later realized I really have no excuse. Maybe I just didn't know how to have a conversation about it.I felt like a teen not knowing if I should stand up for something they really knew nothing about. That evening I took our group of adult volunteers to have dinner, it was getting late and then we heard the words "last call" shouted out. I took it this time as this was the last call to say how I felt about what I overheard or to let it go. So, I took the initiative and shared with them about what I had overheard. The conversation was great. I sat with a group of people who minister in Las Vegas and no one was ashamed.

How?

How do I make sense of all the messiness and complexity within ministry? Maybe it is within the walls of a church, through prayer with young people at a retreat, or in my head while making that family dinner I almost forgot to make.

Confession - we are in constant conversation in ministry. As soon as we understand something, it changes. As soon as a teen asks us for advice, they are moving on to deal with problem number 2 or 3 or 10 and you never know if the advice you gave them to begin with worked.

I feel better when I am honest with myself. I will always do as God calls me to do.I know my family will not starve, the teens will still have hope, and the light in my city will still shine.

Confession as defined by Webster's as simply; acknowledgement of belief; profession of one's faith. I believe I am a good youth minister. I believe God leads people to ministry and ministers lead teens to have faith in themselves and God. I confess - I love ministry!

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