–a reflection from ASC’s Youth Pastor, Brad Acton–
“So, what’s it like being a youth pastor?” they ask me. I could try to explain the tone in which I’ve occasionally gotten that question, but I think you already know it. Feigned respect, mixed with a dash of that-must-be-rough-for-you, and topped off with a when-do-you-become-a-real-pastor?.
I know that tone so well because I’ve used it before. I would have used that same tone and asked that same question up until the day I actually started youth ministry at All Saints Church in the late summer of 2010.
And then I found out how wrong I had been.
What’s it like being a youth pastor? It’s doing life with a group of people who have courage to say what they mean and believe what they say, and have the capacity to say they can’t believe any longer when life’s hardships press down thick and full. It’s church boiled down to the real. It’s life at the surface, and because we adults have lived it all before, we know the signs.
We know the signs because students haven’t quite started training themselves how to hide them. By the time we’re grown, we’ve become masters, but not students. Grief is grief, fear is fear, doubt is doubt, joy is joy, and laughter isn’t ever polite…it’s just laughter.
After spending three days and two nights at Wrightsville Beach with our students and volunteers, I saw all of these things all over again. In students there is a beauty of fading innocence coupled with the sincere grappling with a lingering question: “Does this faith say anything to what I now know to be real?” Teenagers are in the stage where every human being has to account for the worldview they have with the world that they see. It’s the first step in a person developing their theology, how they talk about God, and how they think or don’t think that God has anything to say to them. It happens when we’re students. When we’re youth.
The weekend began and ended with a question: What did you bring with you on this retreat? Not just visible things, but also invisible. What did you bring that no one else could see? The first night the students were invited to come forward, to receive a prayer and blessing that whatever they brought might be made bare before Christ and offered over to him as a way to move into the weekend.
The weekend ended with the same question at a Eucharist service on Sunday morning. What did you bring, what did you leave behind, and are you already picking it up again as you head back home and into the world? I knew they were. Homework, relationships, school dynamics, home life, and so forth were already crowding out the weekend. The retreat helped them forget for a while. Maybe that’s all it did. But there is a prayer still lingering over these students, that they would find rest for their souls.
What’s it like being a youth pastor? It is speaking to people who, for the first time, are coming to grips with the fact that being Christian does not excuse them from suffering. Faith is not belief in the absence of tribulation; it is an opportunity to receive and give life through tribulation itself. Love, faith, and hope are fine in their own right, but when a person chooses to love, chooses to believe, and chooses to pursue hope in the very midst of life falling apart…that is where God draws out wonders.
That is why the Bread itself is torn during Communion; we receive a broken body, one Jesus gave to the world out of love. Love from a Cross, translated at a Table, and given to us so we can keep believing, keep seeing, keep hoping. If our students took anything home with them I pray it is not what they brought in the first place. The volunteers and I pray that they took home Jesus, broken for them, so that they could have life, and have it to the fullest.
Want to learn more about “doing life” with our youth? Contact Brad Acton (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out how you can get involved.