Okay. It’s been forever since I posted. Again. The perks of being bi-vocational. If you’re actually still reading me on a regular basis, you’re used to it. Onward we go!

I grew up in a military home. Now, I bleed red, white and blue. I love our country, and I have a special affection for those who have risked their lives to defend it…men like my father, who risked life and limb for 28 years so my family could be free. I tip my hat to anyone who has ever donned one of our uniforms.

But if you grew up in a military home, you know where I’m going with this. To say my childhood was “regimented” might be putting it lightly. When we went fishing, we left at 5 AM. Getting up at 9 AM on a Saturday was “burning daylight.” We didn’t “mop the kitchen,” we “swabbed the deck.” A “family night” was everyone settling in to watch “Patten.” My brother has this running gag about my Dad showing up to Parent/Teacher Conferences brandishing a combat knife. Sometimes I wonder if there wasn’t some truth to that.

Well, life growing up for me, as you can imagine, was black and white. There was no “in the middle.” It was in, or out. Up or down. Left or right. No ambiguity. No “almost.” There was no room for gray area.

The problem was, in my early Youth Ministry days, I tried to carry that over into the work I did with my students. Everything was black and white. They were either angelic beings or hell-bound sinners. They were either “doing what’s right” or “doing what’s wrong.” I saw everything through the lens of eternity, taking every action to its most extreme implication. Thankfully, someone righted the ship.

I lived on the church property at the time, and from time to time my Pastor would sit on his back porch and enjoy the weather. On one such occasion, I was doing chores in his back yard when he came out, and I decided to join him. Casual conversation went the ministry route, and I began to explain the disconnect I was feeling with my students. That’s when (as my Pastor is adept at doing) he said something so incredibly simple, and yet so impacting that it still reverberates in my soul today.

“Michael, you’ve got to understand…the scripture is black and white, but people aren’t. People are shades of gray.”

Black and white is simple to see, but shades of gray take studying. So the question then is…how much do you study your students? Do you know what makes them tick? Do you know their likes and dislikes? Do you know their deepest dreams and greatest aspirations? Or do most of your conversations go like this:

Youth Pastor: “So…how’s school?”
Student: “Good.”
Youth Pastor: “Getting good grades?”
Student: “Yep.”
Youth Pastor: “Cool.”
Student: *turns and talks to someone else after 10 awkward seconds of silence*

A lot of times this means learning about stuff you care absolutely nothing about. I have a student who loves MMA. I have zero interest in watching people beat the tar out of each other. But if there’s a big fight coming up, I listen to sports radio a little bit and see what I can learn about the fighters. I’ll strike up a conversation with him, and ask him what he thinks. I still don’t care about MMA…but I love that student with everything that’s in me, and if that’s what I need to do to connect to him, I’m all for it.

Now, obviously, this can be taken to an illogical conclusion. Obviously there’s a line that must be drawn. I’m not hanging out with a kid at a hookah lounge so I can get to know him better. Hopefully you’re getting the point.

Once you know that student…his talent, abilities, and dreams…you can find practical ways to begin to integrate him into the work of the church. We’ll get into that next.

One side note: I did develop a survey to use with my students to gauge what their interests were from a ministry perspective as well. I found this very useful, and I’ll be posting in on the Commune-ity soon. Please note: This does not take the place of relationship building….but it can be a good launching point to help you consider some things you might not have thought of.

1 thought on “

  1. Dunno why I finally wandered over here when I hadn’t checked your blog out before, but I really gotta say I like this post. That quote of Bro. Green’s really puts it well.

    Also, this: “I’ll strike up a conversation with him, and ask him what he thinks. I still don’t care about MMA…but I love that student with everything that’s in me, and if that’s what I need to do to connect to him, I’m all for it.”

    That reminds me of that “I became all things to all people so that by all means I might save some” verse. I’m probably misquoting it but I think I got it close enough. 🙂

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