Mainly because Wednesdays are a battleground for me.
It goes without fail: Wednesdays are the biggest days for many youth pastors (especially those of us in traditional churches) because Wednesdays are the days that we meet with the majority of our students and have a good chunk of time set aside to teach, interact and goof off. For those who take the teaching aspect of the job seriously, it’s the culmination of our studies and thinking; it’s the time around which much of our prayers have been focused; it’s our time to shine.
My Wednesdays start out normal: I wake up, I pray, I shower, I get dressed, I teach my CLC class, I head to the office, I check email, I finish up prep…and that’s when it starts. Anxiety. Fear. Irrational whispers and stirrings in my soul that make me feel like at any moment someone’s going to walk through the door and tell me that I suck as a youth pastor. Honestly, these moments prompted me to go back into counseling in order to get a handle on them.
Part of it is my own absurdly-high expectations. Part of it is my awareness that I don’t want to be burdened by my own absurdly-high expectations. Part of it is the struggle that comes from church work, the reality that we do battle everyday with an unseen enemy that wants us to fail and fail spectacularly. There are a lot of moving pieces at work.
But the vast majority of the anxiety comes from the fact that, instead of just rolling along with what’s tried and true, instead of just doing what’s comfortable and historically efficient, I’ve opted to do youth ministry based on a larger premise: do what matters. And what matters is making sure that the students under my care not only hear the message of the Gospel, but they learn to live it out in real time.
This means that I am constantly doing things that are uncomfortable because they are not (recently, anyway) traditional. They’re not particularly efficient. They are, in fact, intensely personal, brutally honest, and exceptionally challenging. It may not seem that way on Wednesday nights, but we’ve all heard the old adage about the duck’s appearance on top of the water and the duck’s appearance beneath.
I don’t crave significance in the sense that millions of people know my name and want to pay to hear me babble. I don’t crave acknowledgment or fame or a reputation for being a guru of any kind. (Not that I’d say no to those things; they’re just not primary motivations for me. Might as well be honest.) I’m driven more by the desire for the kids in my care to know how to think critically about the great questions of life; to know that the faith being transmitted to them isn’t a nifty collection of “carefully crafted fables”, but a robust worldview that considers all of the evidence, all of the facts, and still walks away saying, “Yes, belief in an unseen, eternal, all-powerful God not only makes sense, but makes the most sense compared to the alternatives.”
I’m driven by Truth. Yeah – I capitalized it. Because I think it exists.
I know there are people out there who think that my ministry is liberal, or even worse, anti-biblical. They base their positions on the fact that I don’t just blithely teach the kids to accept what I say without investigation. They are bothered by the fact that I encourage students to question and examine the evidence that life offers alongside the teaching and the history and beauty and mystery of the church and it’s revealed Truth. If that makes me a hippie, so be it.
Especially if it produces students who own their faith, instead of merely borrowing it from a previous generation.
I’ve been down that road. It’s not pleasant.
This could go off into a thousand different diatribes, but I guess what I’ve learned by simply typing it out is that my Wednesdays are challenging because I care. Because i want them to matter to me and to my students. Because I think things of eternal significance happen when we sit down to discuss in-depth not just the doctrines of the faith but how those doctrines are meant to challenge and change the way we live.
I care about teaching my students the Truth. Just like a whole lot of other youth pastors for whom Wednesdays are a private struggle. We care, therefore the enemy attacks. In fact, in keeping with what I’m teaching my CLC class this week, a simple logic structure will close out this post:
P —> Q: If you care about teaching God’s Truth, the enemy will attack you.
P: I care about teaching God’s Truth.
Q: The enemy will attack me.
Such is the life of the committed youth pastor. Welcome to the battleground. Welcome to Wednesday.
The good news is, we win. Always.