patience and youth ministry

recently, i was one of three respondents to a question on Slant33.com. kara powell and brooklyn lindsey wrote absolutely brilliant (and very different) responses to the question — i’d encourage you to click through and read their posts.

here’s the question, and my response:

Patience is difficult for youth workers. What do you find just unavoidably takes time?

Confession: I wrote this question. And it reveals a bit of my age-bias, I think. I’m turning 49 the week I’m writing this, and have passed the 30-year mark in youth ministry. In other words: I’m old.

And, while I tend to normally be a bit averse to age group stereotypes (I sure don’t want to be stereotyped with other 49-year olds!), I think there’s an age generalization I can fairly make as a precursor to responding to this question.

Older youth workers don’t (usually) struggle with patience. There’s mostly only one reason for this: even though many of us (myself included) were once quite impatient, we couldn’t still be in youth ministry if we didn’t pick a bit of it up along the journey. In other words, youth workers who stay impatient usually move on to other ministries, ones that have a more reliable return on investment, a quicker feedback loop, and something to chalk up as “results” other than “well, no one intentionally farted during prayer tonight” (which, I think we can all agree, doesn’t play to well in your monthly report to your church board).

I’m showing my skirt here; you can already tell how I’m going to answer this question, right?

EVERYTHING in youth ministry unavoidably takes time.

Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. There are a few things that don’t have to take time:

  • Ruining your reputation
  • Destroying trust with a student
  • Making an enemy out of a parent

But most things in youth ministry – at least the really good things – take time and patience. Maybe that’s because God is maddenly patient. I mean, I’m really glad God is patient when it comes to my stuff, my sin, my brokenness, my growth. But if I’m honest, I sometimes wish God cared a bit more about speediness when it comes to transforming teenagers. Sure, there are the occasional overnight 180 change stories we pass around (why does it so often seem that evangelists have these as their own stories, and assume everyone else’s will/should be the same?).

But most change takes time. Most transformation – at least the good God-stuff – takes place as a journey of subtle shifts. Most passion develops gradually. Most insight isn’t acquired in a flash. Most commitment, while they may appear to happen all at once the last night of camp, are a long series of fits and starts that gradually settle into resolve and a deeper knowing.

No question about it: pretty much all the really, deeply good stuff of youth ministry requires patience, because God doesn’t care much about speed. One of my primary prayers for youth workers is “God, give us patience.” God, give me patience.

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