Youth Ministry: Pastor as Entertainer or Example?

As I reflect on my time with the kids – young and old – at College Hill, I can’t help but try to make some conclusions about my ministry style. Andy inspired this introspection when he shared how he came across a blog post that annoyed him – he randomly (not so random, actually, we had fish the other night and to mimic my dad he decided to eat the eyeballs. He likes to rub in my face that he’s more Korean than I am) googled “eating fish eyeballs,” and came across someone’s story about kids fishing at (of all places) a Young Life camp – and it happened to be Wilderness Ranch, to be exact, my favorite camp. They fried up the fish and decided to eat the eyeballs. It bothered him that she wrote: “The first eyeball-eater was a youth minister. He HAS to eat fish eyes, right? I mean that’s what youth ministers do. They are all about shock and awe to reach their kids.”

“Do people still think that this is what reaches kids?” he asked incredulously.

…Actually, yes, I think that this sort of thing can break the ice for some kids in some contexts. But, it’s…fluff. And I’m glad that it’s not my style. Maybe it used to be, but as I’ve grown into my identity as a pastor, I’ve grown up a bit, too. I’ve had to…because while youth are youth, youth these days are different from past generations. What I’ve discovered is that they are hungry for something more…something that is filling, nourishing, and real. I think they have enough of that eyeball-eating nonsense everywhere else. All around us there are venues that seek to entertain – i.e. distract, confuse, numb, yes, shock and “awe,” etc. – and the youth ministry that seeks to only entertain first is like a parent that offers their child cotton candy three meals a day.

Therefore, I hope that my ministry was/is characterized by the endeavor to live life honestly and genuinely…in other words, I hope my ministry was an example of life in Christ. I’m not saying “example of the life OF Christ,” nor am I trying to say that I was the perfect example or even set the best “moral” or “character” example, and as a result, my youth should mimic everything in my life. But since I’m not a very articulate person I hope that my ministry was just regular grace-filled bumbling along each day – embodying what it means to be loved by God and love God and others. I certainly wasn’t one for fancy programs and activities, but gatherings characterized by encouragement – whether formal or informal – were definitely a part of my MO and my philosophy is that youth ministry is about youth community centered in Christ’s effort I’m us.

So, I say, leave the eyeballs to the Fear Factor contestants…and Andy and my dad.