I recently saw the movie, “American Sniper” and I really enjoyed it. I am only bringing up Chris Kyle (the Navy SEAL upon whom the movie is based), not to argue for or against the righteousness of his life and vocation, but because I saw a little of myself in him. Specifically, I could relate to how difficult it was for him to be devoted to his family and a vocation he was 100% passion about. In the movie, Kyle was depicted as a man who loved his wife and children but was also frequently torn by how much he felt “needed” by his fellow soldiers. I have nothing critical to say about Kyle. I truly appreciate his service to our country. I don’t know if our military “needed” him as much as he thought they did, but when I watched him leave his family multiple times in tough moments to go back to Iraq to meet a “need”, I was reminded of my youth ministry days.
I was the Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church in Houston for 11 wonderful years. I wouldn’t trade my years there for anything! The relationships that were forged during that time are nothing short of sacred. The church and youth ministry I oversaw in Houston was quite large. I am now the pastor of a small church in Albany, Texas named Matthews Memorial Presbyterian. There are so many things that are different about serving in a small church as opposed to a large one.
No longer actively leading youth ministry, I have had some time to reflect on things I would do differently if I had the chance to re-live those days as a youth worker. The number one thing I would do differently is care more about other youth ministries and churches. I would work with the entire body of Christ to reach students.
I am having the time of my life leading this small church in Albany, Texas. One of my favorite parts about my new call is that I get to work with other churches and youth workers in Albany to try and create a unified approach to reaching our town for Christ. The church leaders of our town have a ministry alliance, and the youth workers are all trying to serve together to reach students. It feels much more pure to be working with other Christ followers instead of subtly competing against them. I didn’t realize I was a competitive youth worker until I left Houston. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t care about other youth workers in Houston until I left the city and was forced into a situation where everyone works well together in a team approach to reaching our region for Christ.
What I realize about my time in Houston is that I overemphasized how “needed” I was in the mission of reaching youth for Christ in my church. I often felt like I didn’t have time for other youth workers because my students and staff “needed” me. Several times, I even left my children and wife for the call of duty because after all, I was “needed” on a youth trip. Buried in my heart I believed no one could lead like I could and at times I hurt my family and I made no real effort to work within the overall body of Christ in Houston to reach students in a more unified approach.
There are a million excuses I would’ve given as to why I didn’t have time to spend with other youth pastors during my season as a youth director. I would have primarily said I simply didn’t have time because my students “needed” me to do what no one else could do.
These days, I am brainstorming with other pastors and youth workers about how to get every kid in our town to go on trips that multiple churches and youth groups might participate in. I dream of being used by God to connect ECO youth ministries together from other towns to put on incredible, Christ-centered, life-changing youth trips that kids from across our denomination can enjoy. In other words, I’m no longer thinking about only my students and church like I previously did, but now I’m leaning on the broader body of Christ. And it feels healthy!
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The implications of these words are profound. Jesus was essentially praying, “I pray that youth workers will be one because if they aren’t, the world may not believe you sent me.” He links life-changing faith in him to the body of Christ operating as a single unit. That is stunning to me! It should alter our singular approach to a more unified approach.
I love serving in ECO. One of my dreams for the denomination is for our youth ministries to intentionally dream up ways for us to work together to reach the youth of our nation. Not in isolation from one another, but leaning on one another, so that the world will believe that Jesus was sent.
Let’s not make excuses as to why we are so “needed” in our day to day tasks that we can’t team up with one another to spawn unified movements within our towns, cities and nation. It’s time for the body of Christ to operate as one. A fresh movement of the Spirit awaits!