The realization that you are no longer the cool, young youth pastor anymore hits hard and kind of stings. Maybe you already know what I am talking about or maybe you will experience it soon, but the truth is no one is getting any younger. Don’t get me wrong, I am really not old and definitely not washed up by any means but now that I have been in the game a little over a decade, things have definitely changed.
I used to win all the youth pastor competitions at camp without even trying; now I am fearful to just to participate. I used to play dodgeball for hours; now it hurts after minutes. I used to challenge students to handstand competitions and do random gymnastics at youth group, and while I still do on occasion, I am afraid of pulling a muscle and the next day feel like I hopped in a UFC ring. The movie quotes and cultural references that instinctively roll off my tongue and used to get the whole room laughing, now only get returned with blank stares because they aren’t so relevant anymore.
I am majorly balding, and from the existing hairs I find new grey ones daily. Somewhere along the line I traded my six-pac-abs for a full keg and I rock the dad bod hard. I am no longer the “older brother” figure and am way more of the “father figure.” In fact, for the first time in my ministry I am actually friends with the parents of my students. Things have definitely changed over the years.
So, what does that mean for me and my ministry?
1. It means I have way more wisdom, technique, and competency
I look back on decisions I made, events we did, sermons I wrote, and just shake my head. It was silly how much I thought I knew, but now know I had no clue. Not that what I did 7 years ago wasn’t effective, and not that any of it was necessarily bad, but it is crazy how much more wisdom, technique, and competency I have now. The Bible says that “gray hair is a crown of splendor” and as it pops up more and more on my head, instead of seeing it as a sign of approaching my expiration date in youth ministry, I am realizing it tells a different story.
I am much better now than I was as the cool 22 year old youth pastor! I am better at decision making, planning, structure, speaking, leading, training, conversations, counseling, and pretty much everything except dodgeball. It is well known that practice makes us better, and that truth is no different in the ministry world. My ministries are in much better hands with the older me than they ever were with the fuller-head-of-hair me.
2. It means my heart for students has grown
I would be lying if I said my first interest in youth ministry wasn’t because it was the most fun, crazy, relaxed, low-pressure (so I thought) ministry, that I was able to do with people who were very close to my age. Sure, I cared about the students and I was impacted the most as a student so I wanted to be a part of that, but my heart wasn’t anywhere near where it needed to be. Here I am all these years later and while it is still a ton of fun, that is no longer my motivation; if it was, I would have burnt out years ago. My heart for students has grown, and grown, and grown, in ways I could not have imagined when I first started. If the Grinch’s heart grew 3 times its normal size for Christmas, mine does that every year for the students in my ministry. I may not be the youngest and coolest in the game anymore, but my heart has had time to grow in compassion and love for the students I serve.
3. It means I have learned to become a better cheerleader
Like I said, winning in physical activities was as easy as breathing when I was younger. I am a very competitive person and while I knew I wasn’t there to win or be better than students, it was a challenge not to. Really, the games and sports were only the tip of the iceberg. My insecurities pushed me to comparison rather than jubilation. I was stuck between wanting to be happy for them, pretending to be happy for them, and comparing myself to them. As childish as it sounds, it was a struggle for the young, cool, hip me.
I have since learned how to genuinely be a cheerleader for students. The older me, who has gained more wisdom and whose heart for students has grown, has learned to be students’ biggest cheerleader and genuinely care for them and help them be their absolute best in every area.
4. It means I know it will only continue to get better and better
I have many youth pastor friends who more than double my time in the ministry and I am sure they look at me, read this post, and shake their heads just like I do when I look back at myself 10 years ago. I know my journey is just beginning and 7 to 10 years from now I will reflect back again and think “Man, I wish I knew then what I know now.” The future is bright, and even though the light that now reflects off the top of my head is also bright, it is not a sign that I am losing my effectiveness; it is a reminder that I will always have more to learn and will only continue to get better and better.
God is not done until He is done, and the best is yet to come!
Todd has been in youth ministry for over a decade and has a passion for reaching lost students and training youth workers to do the same. He is the founder of Stoked On Youth Ministry, a speaker, author, and pastor. When Todd is not writing or speaking he enjoys surfing, baseball and most importantly hanging out with his awesome wife and three beautiful daughters. You can connect with Todd on Twitter @TheTodd_Jones, Instagram @Todd_Jones or for speaking inquiries visit TheToddJones.com
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