Carve Your Notch

October 4th, 2009

We had a subscription to National Geographic when I was a young lad, and one issue I read featured a rite of passage in some remote African tribe. Teenage boys had to climb a high tree, tie vines to their ankles, and then dive off. The trick, apparently, was to jump outward far enough so that when the inevitable plunge came, your hips weren't jerked out of their sockets and your ankles weren't broken.

Luckily this variation on the bungee cord wasn't a requirement in suburban Ohio. I remember some rites of passage of my own. My first R-rated movie (Saturday Night Fever); my first beer (Budweiser— I threw up). The first time I kissed a girl (summer camp) and my driver's license (took the test twice—I ran a stop sign on the first one.)

As of the end of this year, I'll be celebrating 18 years in youth ministry. My friend Al just got his first youth ministry job, and as of this writing he's been at it for three months.

They usually lead a crowd breaker at the National Youth Workers Convention where everyone stands while someone on stage begins counting. 1…2…3…4…. When he gets to the number of years you've been in youth ministry, you sit down. Half the room doesn't make it past five.

I began to wonder about the rites of passage for a youth minister. I wanted to list these for Al and decided I'd share them with you as well.

  • The first time an older lady shows up in your office and “invites” you and your youth to come to the pancake breakfast and do the dishes. Because the youth need a service project, don't they? 
  • The first time you actually drive away from a youth event without all of the youth in the car. Cell phones have made this a lot less troublesome. It was a lot tougher when you got all the way home and Jimmy's parents said, “Uh, where's my kid?”
  • The first time the church board creates a new rule based solely on something that happened in a youth meeting. (Technically, this may not be a rite of passage; it's more like a badge of honor.)
  • The first time you slip and say *#(&)@#&^ in front of the teenagers. Usually in traffic or after banging your finger with a hammer while on a mission trip.
  • The first time an alum from your group comes to you and introduces you to his or her child.
  • The first time one of your young people says, “Yeah, I know that song. I heard it on the oldies station.”
  • The first time someone asks you when you're going to be a real minister. The first Youth Sunday that the congregation actually shows up for. (Ever notice how Youth Sunday tends to fall on the same day as the senior pastor's vacation?)
  • The first time during a discussion that a student brings up something you talked about six weeks ago.

Those who went before us leave markers along the road. We're leaving our own for those yet to come. As you travel down this path, you'll come across one of those wooden posts planted deeply in the ground. You might see a sign that says, “Woman wept while thanking the group for fixing her roof and buying her groceries.” The post is covered with notches. Some deep. Some precise. Others look like they may have been dug in with fingernails. But thousands have been here, and thousands will come behind.

Make your mark. Let someone else know that even in those hard times when the property committee has said “no” yet again, let those who come after you know you've been there. They're not alone.

And the biggest notch in the post was made with a large nail. And the blood that marks the event is there so you can have those wonderful experiences with your teenagers.

Leave your mark. Leave it on the wall. Leave it on their lives. Leave it on your soul. There's more to come.


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