Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The single most useful word for all I know of ministry, and I assure you it is not much, is paradox.

The paradoxes you face in the jungle are many -

When you do your job most effectively, it seems you are not doing anything. When you effectively provide training, formation, and support for leadership it seems as if the teen and adult leaders are managing everything.

The teens view you as ancient while the parents and other adults view you as little more than a youth. As a young adult who without the aid of 'grown-up clothes' and appropriately applied make-up can be mistaken for a high school youth, this is a particular paradox for me. On our last trip to World Youth Day I was mistaken for a younger sister of one of the youths. Of course the hotels most definitely corrected themselves when they realized my signature was required for payment. Just as paradoxical is that this grey zone of youth and age is a good place to be.

The most profound paradox is that when you do that which is the essence of ministry, you feel like you are being completely useless. One of my youths was hospitalized for some serious surgery. I was able to visit the day after the surgery and felt like it was useless. However, I know that the most valuable ministry is that which is of being a presence. By placing ourselves in the midst of pain, grief, the very grittiness of life we become real for the youths. We become a presence of God if we allow him to move in us. Though we may silently hold hands, utter soft prayers, offer what comfort we may, these moments are the moments that God can truly move through us. When we don't know what to say, we turn to God. In return he does guide us so that we may be a presence for the youths. As much as I dread the next phone call telling me of a crisis, I know that in that moment a gift is being offered.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

When to Stop

While every expedition requires planning and planning requires meetings, staff meetings can be one of the more challenging aspects of youth ministry. Yes, they provide communication amongst the staff. Just as often, they provide miscommunication or redundant commentary. On a particular afternoon when you are scrambling to complete the preparations for a day of reflection so you can have a day off, circular discussions at a staff meeting prove exceptionally difficult to accept.

Despite the staff meeting, I was able to polish off the final preparations for the day of reflection we have scheduled with the young adults this weekend. Reflection booklets are copied (the saddle stapler and I do not get along). The plastic tub of supplies is packed and ready to go. The highlight of this story is that I actually get to take tomorrow off - a true day of rest.

Therein lies one of the most difficult challenges to the jungle exploration. There is always more to do, more to see, more... However, there is only a limited amount of time and energy. Making the conscious choice that it is time to stop - to spend time with family, to see friends, to read that book, to take that nap, to disengage - proves so difficult.

Most of those in ministry truly see what they do as a vocation; they follow the call with great passion. When you feel so passionately about something it seems wrong to put it aside. You want to give 110%. However, it is irresponsible and ultimately only detrimental to the very ministry you feel so passionate about pursuing.

So tomorrow I shall enjoy a day of being a 'normal person' - household chores, shopping for some new sheet music, dinner and a movie with a good friend. With a day of rest and relaxation I will be ready for the chaotic weekend of work that awaits.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle

Four years, eight months, and twenty days into my time as a youth minister I've come to the conclusion that youth ministry is much like exploring a jungle. Thus, this blog is my contribution as the field guide of my observations.

The natives are colorful, tribal, and occasionally hostile.

The terrain covers the full spectrum of topographical variations and vegetative states.

So welcome to the jungle, hope you wore comfortable shoes and brought your well-stocked pack.

Despite what many say, there is no definitive field guide to the correct way to navigate the complicated 'job' that is a youth minister. Accordingly, you learn from your successes and failures, listen to those wiser than you, observe the natives, and slowly learn your way through the jungle.

There are those who claim that the mere act of observation changes the dynamics of a situation. As someone who is most assuredly not merely observing, I know that my perspective, personality, flaws, and gifts inherently color my ministry and my observations.

To be fair to any of you who have not brushed me off yet, I will introduce some of the more important biases. First, I am college educated, but not in the field of ministry. I graduated from a Big Ten University with a degree from the College of Letters & Science. Second, I am a Catholic youth minister. That's my belief, my theology, and will be a key component to some of the observations I make. Third, I am female. Yup, a female, Catholic, liberal arts educated youth minister. Take it for what it is worth. Fourth, I am only twenty-seven. While the kids think I'm ancient, some of my co-workers call me the baby. Age is all perspective.

I can't promise wisdom. I can't promise inspiration. I can't promise that you will agree or like what I write. however, whatever I put on this page will be honest and founded on the principle that all ministry and all human interaction should be founded in love. I know there will be times when my frustration, natural inclination towards sarcasm, and the inevitable exhaustion may put you into doubt regarding that, but always remember that I am merely human. As are all those who answer the call to minister.

Like many posts likely will be, this written late and I must be up and perky for a staff meeting. So until the next guide, I wish you good night.