in the last couple months i have been wearied by the seemingly endless trail of wounded youth workers who are second-guessed, criticized, diminished, fired, lied to and lied about, undermined, and tossed aside. i know these things:
1. we youth workers are not always the most mature leaders in the church. we bring some of this on ourselves.
2. there are wonderful churches where this doesn’t happen.
3. there are way too many churches where this does happen.
with that in mind, this bit of highly-altered scripture, from the story of shadrach, meshach, and abednego (consider it commentary):
The church board made a record book of gold, a cubit high and a cubit wide, and set it up on an alter-like table in the narthex of the church. It contained all the names of the members of the church, and a list of the ways “things are done around here.” They then summoned the pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and volunteers of every kind, to come to the dedication of the book they had set up. So the pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and volunteers of every kind assembled for the dedication of the record book of gold that the church board had set up, and they stood before it.
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Parishioners, members, and donors of every sort, this is what you are expected to do: More than anything else, you must revere this book. Even more so, you must revere the values behind the book, that we exist for those who are here, and that our highest means of praising God is to stay the same. Whoever does not revere this book and the value of staying the same will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about his calling and orthodoxy and character, and — for paid staff — the likelihood of being replaced by someone who will comply.”
Therefore, as soon as they saw the beautiful book with its gold-edged pages, they revered this book and the value of staying the same, even worshipping, in their hearts, the values that the church board had set up.
At this time some bitter, wealthy old members came forward and denounced the youth workers. They said to church board, “May the church board live forever! You have issued a decree that everyone must revere the book containing the list of members, and the values behind the book that clearly state that we exist for those who are here, and that our highest means of praising God is to stay the same. You also said that whoever does not revere this book and the value of staying the same will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about his calling and orthodoxy and character, and — for paid staff — the likelihood of being replaced by someone who will comply. But there are some people in this church whom you have set over the affairs of the youth ministry who pay no attention to you. They neither serve your values nor venerate the gold book you have set up. They care about those dirty sinful young people outside of the church just as much — maybe more! — than they care about the sons and daughters of the biggest donors. And worse yet, they are committed to trying new things and making changes, always citing the need to ‘contextualize the incarnational gospel into the world of teenagers’ — blasphemy if we have ever heard it!”
Furious with rage, the church board summoned the youth workers. So these women and men were brought before the church board, and church board said to them, “Is it true, youth workers, that you do not serve our values or venerate the gold-leafed book we have set up? Now when we hold the book in front of you, if you are ready to back off and change your ways, if you are willing to limit your time and energy to the children of the biggest donors, and if you are willing to stop trying new things, very good. But if you do not prostrate your hearts and will to ours, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about your calling and orthodoxy and character, and — for paid staff — the likelihood of being replaced by someone who will comply. Then what will happen to your precious ‘incarnational gospel’?”
The youth workers replied to them, “O board members, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace you describe, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, church board, that we will not serve your selfish values or worship the gold-leafed book you have set up.”
Then the board was furious with the youth workers, and their attitude toward them changed. They quietly ordered the furnace of criticism, character assassination, red-tape and every imaginable smothering of real ministry to be heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the loudest and most bitter old-timers in the congregation to tie up the youth workers and throw them into the blazing furnace of criticism, diminishing comments, questions about their calling and orthodoxy and character, and the threat — to the paid staff person — of losing her job. So these youth workers, wearing their youth group t-shirts, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The board’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire destroyed the loud and bitter old-timers who took up the youth workers, and these youth workers, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace of criticism.
Then the board leaped to their feet in amazement and asked their best gossipers, “Weren’t the youth workers tied up and thrown into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, board members.”
They said, “Look! I see one extra man walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the extra man looks like a son of the gods.”
The church board then approached the opening of the blazing furnace of criticism, character assassination and job threats and shouted, “Youth workers, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So the youth workers came out of the fire, and the pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and volunteers of every kind crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their youth group t-shirts were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
Then the chairman of the board said, “Praise be to the God of the youth workers, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the board’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God; they were willing to persevere criticism and second-guessing and gossip and rumor and absurd expectations, rather than giving up on a life-giving gospel. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of the youth workers be held accountable, and that we all reform our ways, reaching out to those outside our walls — even when it makes us uncomfortable — and embrace a new passion for trying new things in our effort to re-present God to the world around us.”
Then the board tripled the youth ministry budget.
others in this series:
selections from exodus 3 & 4, rewritten for youth workers
2 Corinthians 11 & 12, if Paul had been a youth worker
psalm 23 for youth workers
luke 5 for youth workers
1 kings 19 for youth workers
2 timothy 1 and 2, if paul were writing to youth workers