What is this one thing that is needed to remain in youth ministry? Is it passion? Is it courage? Is it good hair? I know it’s not the last one since much of it left me long ago. No, it’s a good memory.
I have a gentleman in my church who drives the bus for us sometimes and he often says to me, “I remember what it was like. It was hard.” He remembers his middle and high school years and it compels him to continue to volunteer for our youth ministry.
Our high school and middle school memories are critical to good youth work. When we look in a kid’s eyes we ought to see and remember ourselves at that age, in the awkwardness, in the hurt, and in the terrible fashion choices. These memories create empathy and compassion and that is what students need from us. It’s still rough out there, and probably worse (even though we walked to school uphill both ways in the snow).
Consider the hashtag #HighSchoolin5Words that was trending not too long ago. These tweets were both heartbreaking and hilarious. That pretty much sums up middle and high school, doesn’t it?
Here are some of the hilarious ones:
- Bring your changer and headphones
- LET ME C YO HOMEWORK!
- Crap there’s a test today?!
- Disney channel lied to us.
- Ayee bruh you got gum?
- Well the books were free
- Eyeroll, whatever. Ugh. Lame. Whyyyyy?
- Not directed by John Hughes
- Learned to forge Mom’s handwriting
- Please remove me from locker.
- Locker combination induced anxiety disorder
But the serious ones were equally heartbreaking:
- Everyone is not your friend
- Some days you just survive
- Where virginity goes to die
- Can I die now pls
- You’ll learn to hate people
- Why is everyone so fake?
- Honor roll but no friends
- Worst years of my life
I remember being bullied and having to map out strategies to avoid certain people in the hallway to avoid confrontation. I remember the school dances that were fun and I danced like I did not have a care in the world. I remember going to the principal’s office and getting my licks for being tardy. I remember taking a girl to prom and getting left. I remember making friends who are my friends to this day. These memories keep me doing youth work. I see the bullied kid, the outsider, and the girl unsure of herself. I see the boy who just wants to party, and I see myself in all of their eyes.
When my flashback is over I ask, who’s there to help this kid? Who’s listening to him? His parents? Maybe. Who’s teaching and showing this kid that God loves her? Oh, that’s right, I’m standing right here. The reason I’m still standing here is because I have a good memory of all the good and bad that I had in high school, and I also remember a youth pastor and youth group that did not make it suck any more than it had to.
I spent over $300 on picture frames because I want kids to walk in our youth room and remember their best times might have been at church. I want them to grow up and say “Yeah, high school sucked, but I had a great youth group who loved me no matter what.” I want them to remember the retreat, the camp, the service, and the lunches. I want Jesus to be the brightest spot of their middle and high school years.
“Keep all special thoughts and memories for lifetimes to come. Share these keepsakes with others to inspire hope and build from the past, which can bridge to the future.” – Mattie Stepanek
Memories can fool us into thinking life was much worse or much better than it was, but if we can remember those times, good and bad, we can be effective in ministering to students and we can do it for a long time.
PAUL TURNER is a long-time youth worker, speaker, and blogger of all things youth ministry. He’s the youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Assembly in Birmingham, AL and writes regularly at THEDISCIPLEPROJECT.NET.