By Adam McLane The first time I took a full time youth ministry job I was understandably excited about having an office in a church. True to form, the first day of work I was introduced to the church secretary and shown my new office. As Judy opened the door to my new office my eyes were fixated on the sign on the door. “Adam McLane, Youth Pastor.” Looking back, I'm embarrassed to admit how proud I was to see my name on that sign. For me, that sign meant I had arrived on the scene and I had achieved one of my life goals in serving at a church as a youth pastor.
The fun of that moment was quickly replaced as I realized that the only thing new about my office was the nameplate. The door barely opened as the staff had been stuffing junk in the empty office in the months since the previous person had left. Judging by the amount of personal effects in the desk, he had left in a hurry. The room was stuffed with a hodgepodge of junk, junk mail, Ideas books, photo albums, and boxes of stuff that no one wanted to throw away because they were convinced that the new youth pastor would be able to utilize. While I appreciated the thought I was relatively convinced that stale marshmallows and old tape decks wouldn't be needed for my ministry there.
My first two days in that new office were spent sorting things into piles and making trips to the dumpster. It was a humble beginning.
As dusty and annoying as that experience was it taught me something very important. As I looked through Abel's things deciding what I needed and what I didn't I realized that my place in these students life was significant… but not the only pastor they would ever have. As I opened every door and saw his pictures with current students on the bookshelves I was continuously reminded that his story and their story were inseparable. Those kids had history with him and my hope was that as we moved into the future that they'd make room to weave my ministry into their story as well. Rather than cleaning out memories of his ministry or pretending like it never happened while proclaiming “I'm the new guy in town” I discovered that much of my response to his ministry continued to validate the truths he taught.
Now, a few years later and a couple of ministries later I think that early experience has helped me appreciate my place in students history a little better. As significant as we are in kids lives, the goal of our ministry isn't to be the only pastor they'll ever know or trust. Our role is designed to be temporary!
From time to time I am approached by a new youth worker with this question, “I'm new to my ministry and the kids only talk about the previous youth pastor, what should I do?” I think the perspective of those first few days in my first ministry taught me to acknowledge and validate the previous persons ministry. But it has also taught me that we can't live in the past but are instead called to remember our mentors best by walking boldly into the future by embracing today.
More importantly, I like to point these questions to two hopeful truths.
1. Our ministry was not in vain! “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” [1 Cor 15:58]
2. One day, like it or not, you will be a memory in the life of your students. Either you'll move on or they will move on… its the curse of working with adolescents… they grow up! And your ministry will leave an impression, it is up to you to determine the stories people will tell of your impact.
One day, in the life of your students, someone else will be their pastor. Either they will outgrow youth ministry or you will move on to another ministry. (I know, fatalistic… right?) One day memories of your ministry will be youth group legend. They will tell stories about you. They will share pictures on Facebook about you. And they will remember stuff you did and taught while the lean on the door frame telling stories of when they were in high school. And that is an exhilarating reality, isn't it?
Your present will be the past– and the question is, are you keeping that perspective in mind? I don't mean fixate on this concept… just, are you bearing it in mind? Are you recognizing that your impact may be hard to see today but will live as a picture in your students minds for the rest of their lives?
It's crazy to think about, isn't it? While it could produce some guilt in you I hope it excites you! One day your ministry today will be reduced to a mere sound bite or footnote in the lives of tomorrow's leaders. What will they say about you?