I was a horrible youth pastor.
I found myself in college studying for the ministry. This was despite the fact that my faith was quite feeble–and my interest in church life was pretty near non-existent. This is sort of like a person wanting to be a nurse but who can’t stand the sight of blood. Or a student wanting to be a grade school teacher but who hates children. But for some odd reason I felt like I should go into the ministry. Perhaps “calling” works like that (more on that later).
Just a tip: When you’re 18 and want to go into the ministry and you are even a C+ on the cool scale everyone thinks you’re going to do youth ministry. I discovered this, and didn’t argue, and so I got an actual paid job to do Junior High youth ministry at the age of 18 & 2 months of age.
Now, the Senior High Youth Pastor was an amazing guy–he knew his stuff back and forwards. In fact, he might be one of the foremost authorities on youth ministry around: Charlie Alcock, IWU Student Ministries professor.
While working under Charlie I learned that he was a great youth pastor, and that I was a horrible one. Two episodes:
1) We were reaching large crowds of teens–a sea of humanity actually. Hundreds of teens. Our problem was not attracting crowds, it was managing them. In my junior high ministry group I would always come up with a game for them to play. One time I came up with a contest where a piece of Bubble Yum would be at the bottom of a pile of flour and the contestants had to dig through it without their hands, find the gum, chew it up and then whoever blew a bubble would win. Great idea, right? One problem: my ministry was perhaps 50% african-american, and 3 of these young men were the volunteers who did the game. As they rooted through the flour vigourously and then popped up with their faces covered in white and chewing dry gum with fervor the entire group erupted into laughter… some of their buddies couldn’t stop laughing for 20 minutes. And it turns out that Bubble Yum absorbs flour or something so it took forever for them to blow a bubble. Here I felt like I had inadvertantly created a racial incident where at maximum I got black boys to do some inverted “blackface” routine in front of the croud, in this case “whiteface.” At minimum they looked like mimes chewing gum. Great spiritual formation was happening under my leadership!
2) The other incident was when we went on a “snow trip.” Most youth groups do “ski trips” but this was Indiana, and the hill we went to was more of a colossal toboggan ride than a ski resort. We took more than a hundred of our kids, many of which were inner-city kids who had never left the county. They went haywire. We couldn’t control any of it. And the first night 3 of the junior high boys went missing; a leader and I went looking for them and found them hiding in a room of 4 freshman girls–apparently looking to “stay over.” Being an 18 year old youth pastor with no experience I was terrified that on my first big event I let 4 of my teen girls get pregnant on my watch! That wasn’t the case–but I did get the sense that something was wrong and I wasn’t cut out for this youth pastor stuff.
I later learned that Charlie actually talks about this event as “what not to do” for a variety of reasons. He learned from his mistakes and became an expert… I just fled youth ministry like the plague.
In this season my faith was doing something weird. I still didn’t have a really vibrant faith–but I started to believe that at least the church mattered somehow. I started to dream about the idea of “authentic community.” Not that youth ministry couldn’t have authentic community (and in fact I’ll note that many of my friends found it there), but for me I started to look at my college friends and wonder if we could have “authentic community” or not. I wondered if the church needed to be “for us” and “by us” somehow. And this started me on a trail that would take up the next 3 years of my faith journey, for better or worse.
Thanks for listening in on my experiences. I don’t know if they relate to you or not… but perhaps you, like me, have some odd, funny or scary youth ministry experiences. If so, what are they?