"No matter how bad a job your predecessor did, he/she will always be remembered as just a little bit better at youth ministry than you. The previous youth worker could have set the sanctuary on fire and years later be remembered for "creative worship ideas." Do not get upset by this. Eventually you'll be a previous youth worker too." --Steve Case, "A to Z Guide to Youth Ministry"

"For when one says, 'I belong to Paul,' and another 'I belong to Apollos,' are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who planted or the one who watered is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building." --1 Corinthians 3:4-9

Three posters with frames, a basket of old photographs, two filled scrapbooks, several sections of a flagpole and a set of shelf brackets were left in my office last week. They all date from a previous youth worker. The posters are tacky, the shelf brackets useless and the flagpole makes me wonder-- did so much underwear get hung up on his retreats that he started carrying the pole with the group to make it more convenient?

I was ready to throw them all away. I didn't have time for this, or the interest to try and figure out who was in all these bent, unlabeled, faded photos. For good measure, and because I rarely clean my office, I left them in place for a week.

On Saturday I met a woman and her husband who had been involved in our youth program with the previous staffer. They told me a few stories and offered to help again. I went back to the basket of photos and sure enough, there was now a face I recognized.

The previous youth worker took groups to the same place we're going in two weeks for a service projects. He led them in worship, and in discussions around the altar in the sanctuary. They ate pizza together and wore out secondhand furniture and went to Ted Drewe's for frozen custard. They learned to be disciples. They learned about traditions of faith. They learned to tell the story.

It is a mistake to ignore the contributions of the previous youth worker. Even if none of the students from that program still attend, even still live in this city, they were touched somehow. However hard it is for me to build credibility with parents today, the task is just slightly easier because someone else broke ground for me. If I dig into the previous youth minister's story, I will discover mistakes he made that I can avoid; first steps that I can continue; and traditions unique to this place that will bind students together.

One thing we should leave behind as youth ministers is gifted, disciplined disciples who have been touched by the Gospel through us. Another aspect that is often overlooked is leaving ground that will be easy for another minister to work.

I received a letter early this month from the secretary of my last parish. That congregation still works on the same struggles they had when I served there. The number of students on this year's mission trip is down again. And they are not yet looking for a new staffer. But three people are involved in youth ministries that they care deeply about, and have even shed other responsibilities to take on these new ones. I did not work miracles in that place, but as a previous youth worker there, I am proud to have left a field that volunteers felt able to step into and continue God's work.

"So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-- all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God." --1 Corinthians 21-23

1 comment:

Esther said...

It's always nice to know that your work meant something!