(The following is a large portion of my September column for my diocesan newspaper "ChurchActs". I hope my editor will forgive my publishing it here early. The column talks about a thought that nagged at me while I was watching the events of GC. The subject will seem a little silly to many folks for whom this is a "given". But for many of us it has been a long struggle Peace)
What has pressed on me most strongly is a single word. A word that has bothered me for many years but one that I would like all of us to adopt and use. The word is minister.
In my years in youth ministry I’ve called myself a youth “advisor” and a youth “leader”. But I shied away from youth “minister”. A minister is someone with a ministry and ministry is for those white collar types right? In a religious culture that has always tended to divide us (the lay people) and them (the clergy) it felt like I was onto someone else’s turf. Over the last several years I’ve realized that a minister is anyone who answers a call to care for someone or something. Making sure the garbage is disposed of properly can be a ministry to your faith community every bit as much as caring for the formation of young people. My personal call is to care for young people in my home parish, this diocese and in our province. After many years struggle with the concept I accepted that this was my ministry. Now I’m prepared to claim the title that comes with it. I am a youth minister. This is the proper title for the calling from God to which I have responded. I know that I am far behind some of the adults who work with youth in accepting and adopting this title. I hope that everyone working with our young people will join me in adopting this word.
Why is this word so important? Because it recognizes that our work with youth is not only based in our love for them but also in a divine call to us. It is a call to lay persons, deacons, priests and bishops. It is a call to congregations, dioceses, provinces and denominations. Truly this call has little to do with youth groups or Sunday school classes. Being a youth minister is a full time ministry for some of us, being open to the special needs of growing bodies and searching souls. The call also extends to every person of faith. You are called to welcome young people in the worship and to the community of faith. Without that ministry the young people will not stay long enough for the rest of us to work with them.
Accepting this single word remains scary for some of us. Like a new piece of clothing there are days when it still feels a little uncomfortable to me. Too tight in some places, too loose in others. It means no longer justifying what we do with easy phrases like “I love the kids”. The word declares “God has called me and I have answered”.
It is time for many of us to take the step and say, “I am a youth minister”.