We youth workers are an interesting lot.
I love our tribe tremendously. I love how faithfully and selflessly we serve for the sake of our calling. Most every youth worker I meet reflects the glory of God in the way they desire to show the love of Christ to teenagers.
At the same time, many of us are conflicted and angsty. (If “angsty” isn’t already a word, I want credit for creating it.) In my experience our angst comes from a feeling of being overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood.
When it comes to working with the larger church body I’ve often felt different and out of place. Youth workers are natural innovators and creative thinkers. We tend to push the envelope when it comes to new ministry forms. What I’ve found in my own life is that these great qualities can lead me to look at other ministry leaders with frustration. My perception is that they don’t get me and don’t really know how to do the work of ministry. So we look for ways out.
Our angsty feelings and our drive for innovation give us a desire to be free of the systems we serve. We think, “If I could be free of the tired, stagnant church I’m a part of, the I can really flourish.” You may be like me and even thinking of the church as a “system” makes you cringe.
I would like to challenge my fellow youth workers to think twice before dismissing the systems we are a part of. I’ve learned that instead of being free of the stagnant church system I need to embrace it.
Being a part of the system teaches me to honor authority. How often have you taught your students to honor their parents, teachers, coaches or other authorities? We’ve extolled the benefits of honoring those over us. If we are honest, this is one of those things– we practice the opposite of what we teach.
We undermine and rebel against authority because we think we know better. If we are unwilling to honor those God has placed over us (elders, pastors, church boards) then we are hypocrites. Jesus himself learned to submit to the authority of the Father when he laid down his life at the cross. Paul taught us to honor and respect authorities, even unjust ones.
Being a part of a system teaches me that those who think differently are not my enemies. It’s funny how youth workers, who feel dismissed and overlooked, often dismiss those who are older and think differently. The body of Christ is a beautiful thing when it displays unity among diversity. I must remind myself daily that the people who may think differently still love Jesus and want to make Him known to others. Once I do that I am able to look past the differences and appreciate them for who they are. Also, I need to let go of my arrogance that I know better than others. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t have all the answers. I can actually learn from ministry leaders who aren’t like me.
Being a part of a system teaches me to help shape a church culture instead of abandoning it. When Jesus came to earth, He came into our system and transformed it from the inside out. In the same way, if I remove myself from the system that is weighing me down, then I am robbing myself of possibly helping the Body of Christ grow and change. I’ve found that by honoring church leadership and appreciating those who think differently, I have been able to win the right to be heard and to shape the church through my passions and gifts.
When I became okay with working in the system and serving those around me I found a peace and joy about being part of the larger church family. I became more selfless toward other ministries. I saw the blessing that I could be to other people. Yes, I may still feel like an outsider from time to time, but being a part of Jesus’ body makes it all worth while.
What do you think? Can you live out your calling within an imperfect system or is it necessary to get out of the system?
photo credit: Charlotte Spencer via Flickr (Creative Commons)