Letters from a Youth Pastor of a Messy Ministry

Dear Tim,

How’s your ministry? I hope this finds you at the right time. I believe you are in your first year of being a youth pastor. You have been volunteering and interning for a few years, but as I understand, you have been given the opportunity of being titled the student pastor of a church. You have the opportunity to see the behind the scenes look at ministry, especially within your new church. You are building up a student ministry from the ground up. You have always been part of youth ministries that were established and already functioning, for the most part. But now, you are the main leader in charge of the planning, creating, teaching, and leading. You are a pastor to a youth ministry.

I’m sorry.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of you. I’m glad you are doing this. You have a passion for something, and it’s really refreshing to see someone pursue the very thing God has called them to pursue. It doesn’t happen as often as it should (another topic for another time). But I remember that you wanted to be a middle school Math teacher growing up, and I can see some similarities between the two. You are in charge of teaching students. You have the opportunity to be an example for teenagers. You play a big role in their lives. This is something I can see you doing pretty easily. But you’re not a middle school teacher. You are a youth pastor and I’m not writing this to tell you I’m sorry that you’re not doing something else.

I’m sorry that youth ministry is messy.

Tim, if you have not experienced it already, your ministry is going to be messy, especially with what the students are going through today. Their friends bullying them through social media, in person, and behind their back in just one week span. The students living with separated un-Christian parents does not help build their faith in God. They will share with you things they don’t just share with everyone, whether it is thoughts of suicide, struggles with addictions consuming their life, or attraction to the same gender. There will be questions over why would God allow their younger sibling to die from a disease. You will not be liked by some students. Other students will not remember most of your sermon teachings. You are going to invest in some and not see any results. All of that is not clean and it’s uncomfortable. Then you put yourself in the middle of all that, and it gets even messier. You have a messy background and you bring that into your youth ministry as well. If it was up to me, it wouldn’t be messy. But luckily, it’s not up to me. When you look at Jesus’ ministry, it centered on a mess. Because at the center is people. And in your case, it’s students. While the religious leaders invested their time around the clean and comfortable situations, Jesus created hope in the hopeless, broken, and helpless. His ministry was messy. He taught that sometimes we will be rejected by the culture by following Him. Sometimes we will need to forgive those we want to hate. Sometimes we will love by sacrificing our own wants and needs. It’s not going to be easy. But God is using you, so I hope that your ministry is messy because it means that you are part of something you didn’t originally sign up for. You a part of God making a messy ministry into a beautiful ministry.

So let me ask again. How’s your ministry?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV).

Sincerely, 

A Pastor of a Messy Ministry

TIM HELLER | STUDENT MINISTRIES PASTOR