And, So It Begins…AGAIN

Dr. Emmett Brown couldn’t generate 1.21 gigawatts of electricity in 1955 to make his flux capacitor work (as we learned from Dr. Brown that he was sure that in 1985 “plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it’s a little hard to come by”). The only thing that could generate enough power to get Marty McFly back to 1985 Hill Valley was a bolt of lightning. One problem: “Unfortunately, you never know when or where it’s going to strike.”

It’s the same way for youth ministers.

You try to build relationships with teens…the “flux capacitor” of ministry to them, if you will. Your job is structured to do that very thing. You sit in coffee shops getting to know them or maybe even problem solving. You go to their games. You see their plays. You hear their concerts. You get your car washed (most of the time poorly) if it doesn’t need it and eat lunch at restaurants you don’t really want to hoping they’ll notice you were there. You have them play Wii at your house when they should be doing homework. You ski with the kids who aren’t good skiiers. You understand that the true spiritual life is most effectively learned life-to-life.

Sometimes the lightning doesn’t strike. You never know the reason, but you suspect it could be several reasons. The bottom line is that the teen doesn’t want you around. This is something few parents truly understand…and the youth minister gets blamed because the teen keeps pushing us away. Then they tell mommy and daddy they have no idea why the youth pastor “hates” them or why there are “cliques” in the group and they can’t get connected.

Open note to parents: Sometimes your teen doesn’t tell you the whole truth. Sometimes your kid outright lies. You get that little tidbit of blog information for free today only, kids.

But when the lightning does strike…

…manalive is 1.21 gigawatts powerful.

See, it usually happens about once a year to me. That moment that the God of the Universe puts that ONE KID on my heart. Let me put that in human terms for those of you not hip to Christian insider lingo. There’s a moment where words pop into my brain that say something like, “Pay attention to that kid and build into their lives big-time. Christ has something very specific to do with them and you’ll be an anchor for them during the next few years of their spiritual development.”

At that point, in poker terms, I’m “all in” on that kid.

If I were to list 21 years worth of the “that kids” He has, well, um, put on my heart, let’s just say that I have few misreads on that. The Kingdom will be more populated and rewarded because of their ministries, and in many ways their ministries are “more successful” than mine.

Some are pastors in varying roles, from young married to senior to college to youth. They still give me a hard time that they learned Greek and Hebrew during seminary, while I never did.
Some are on the mission field full-time.
Some are still in seminary.
Some are great moms who teach a senior high small group of girls.
Some are giving their testimony to large groups of women after having taken, well, a somewhat circuitous route to the spiritual life in Christ.
Some are school teachers in public schools…loving teens through art (some paint, some coach elementary P.E., some dramatic, some studying to do it through English).
Some are in the business world by day and being all emergent-house-churchy-communal by lifestyle.
Some are enjoying being married and ministering alongside their spouse in a Christian school environment.
Some are writing curriculum for financial ministries.
Some are with the Lord. Well, one. But he ministered more by his story (which became public via media coverage) fighting CF in his 20 years here than I likely will in however many God gives me.
Some are college students trying to figure it all out and leaning on Him in the “now and not yet” time of life–that time between finishing college and getting to ministry.

Like I said, I have few misreads on those moments.

But, these days, when the lightning strikes, I’m pretty sensitive to the when and where. At this stage of the game, I have some idea of what’s going to happen on the back end.

And, it has happened twice in the last two weeks.

1.21 gigawatts moment #1: Discussing the curse of writing with her. I “get” that curse. Where you simply HAVE to write. It organizes the thoughts that are constantly coming into your brain. It lets you get rid of the jumble of ideas as they happen. It lets you put on paper the odd way that you perceive the same events that happen to everybody else. She felt misunderstood by even though she was closest to. She had HUGE questions about God and for God. Uh-oh…she felt far afield from her fellow man, including fellow Christians.

That sound you heard was me pushing all my chips to the center of the table.

1.21 gigawatts moment #2: Goofing around at a table (enlightening the young ladies at the table regarding the importance of ALWAYS taking the Captain’s Wafers over regular saltine crackers at a salad bar–yes, this is what your kids get in the normals of ministry, but don’t knock the advice. It’s true, and you know it.). I take the kid’s iPod and scroll through the music library. We’re music twins. I comment about that. She says, “Yeah, music is really important in my life. When nobody understands me or I’m stressed or feeling bad, music just kinda drains all that crud away.” Uh-oh. I tell her it has a similar effect on my life. Suffice to say, her story to that age and mine were strikingly similar.

That sound you heard was me pushing in another stack of chips to the center of the table.

So, parents, sometimes us youth ministers aren’t “playing favorites.” Sometimes, it’s nothing more than responding to what we believe God telling us to do.

Open note to parents #2: And, yes, sometimes we do “play favorites.” Not on purpose, mind you. It’s just that some teens let us in a little faster or maybe we have more in common with them or whatever. That does happen. Just let us know when it does. We’ll do what we can to help your kid. Promise.

And, it ain’t all roses when you’re the 1.21 gigawatt kid. Having the youth minister’s chips all in on your hand has tremendous downsides, too. They feel it. They know it. There are times they want out of that fishbowl and just swim around like the other kids. They don’t get that luxury. They’re uncomfortable with just the idea that there’s something God wants to do with them that might just keep them from ever being whatever their idea of “normal” happens to be. I’m sure some of them who read this blog will comment on that reality…that reality that their youth minister sees something extraordinary in what you perceive as a very ordinary you.

But, like when I try to explain to others “why I’d spend all day every day for 21 years with teenagers”…

…why do you (or the 1.21 gigawatt kid, for that matter) assume that I have a choice?

I am not my own.

And, neither are they.

We’re in this “slow business” of spiritual growth together…for my “planting” portion of the program. Others will “water.” God will cause them to grow in His time and in His way.

In some more words of Dr. Emmett Brown, “Let me show you my plan for sending you home. Please excuse the crudity of this model, I didn’t have time to build it to scale or to paint it.”

There’s a plan.
The model is crude.
It isn’t built to scale.
It isn’t painted.

But when the lightning hits it…



P.S. How long has it been since I told you I love my job?