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This is a long read, I know but, sometimes we just gotta say it like it is. This blog is for anyone who is either brand new in youth ministry or for some insane reason, contemplating it. I wanna focus on the one thing that no one had ever prepared me for when I said “Sure!” to the invitation into this journey. The one thing that almost ruined me early on.

Let me backtrack some first. When I took over the 8 kids in our youth group, I knew nothing. Seriously, nothing. I was a drummer/singer in the adult band and that’s it. I didn’t know much of anything about the Bible, no seminary training, no past history of growing up in church, not even a desire to DO this youth group thing. However, our church had lost it’s current youth leaders and I was the “drummer guy with the mohawk” that the teens were drawn to. Who knew a doofy hairstyle would be a qualifier.

I agreed, with the candy-coated anticipation of pizza, games, some Jesus stuff and a bunch of kids who thought I was the coolest guy in church. Hah. Newbie. So what was it? What was that one thing I wish I was warned about?

The emotional connection.

If you’re going into youth ministry for the right reasons, be prepared to find yourself emotionally invested beyond your imagination.

My wife and I weren’t prepared to lay awake worried about a kid’s crappy family life. Not prepared to actually care that a kid was about to fail school. Not prepared to have our heart broken as we realized a kid’s parent couldn’t care less about them. Not prepared to get the call that a youth had passed away, or a family of four were killed in a plane crash. Not prepared to hear a youth say “My father just died”. Not prepared to ride with a family to pick up their kid from jail after I’d invested countless hours of ministry into him. Not prepared to watch kids graduate and never look back at Jesus again.

This seemed to be the one thing left out of every youth book I read. It’s the thing no church leader or mentor said to be ready for. Maybe for good reason. Maybe it’s to protect us early on and keep us from hightailing it out of there before we preach our first sermon. Whether it was good intentions or a mere oversight, I wasn’t prepared to be sucker-punched by this onslaught of compassion I’d never felt before… nor wanted.

But… to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If youth ministry was all about lock-in’s, pizza parties and “all hail the mighty youth leader”, I’d bow out. Sure, it would be easier and flattering but, I don’t want that kind of shallow, meaningless, candy-coated calling for my life.

Jesus didn’t say “Come to me all who are lookin’ for a good time, a cool youth room and a soda chug contest!” He dealt with those who were messed up, heartbroken, hopeless and helpless. He dove in head first to a pool of sinful, disobedient, stubborn people that He chased after when they were drowning in the deep end.

I think Matthew 9:36 reveals why. “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Compassion.

It’s one of the things that makes us most like Jesus. I’m pretty positive Jesus had some sleepless nights as His heart broke for those He encountered. I’m sure He sat and thought about the destructive choices even some of His closest followers were making. But compassion propelled Him forward. Compassion fueled His ministry. Compassion made it all bearable. Compassion was the backbone of why He chose to endure death on our behalf. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard by this love He would have for people and I don’t want you to be either.

I’m praying for you as you dive into the youth ministry pool and begin your journey. Splashing around in waist-high water is fun but you’re called to the other side where it’s deep, dangerous and tempting to stay away from. Compassion is the life preserver you will be called to throw out time and time again. Be ready, be willing to take a deep breath and jump.

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