A Letter to a High Schooler Who Moved Away

This is an excerpt from an email that I sent in response to a message from a teenager who moved away.  I just thought it opened a little window into my world.  Sorry it is long.


Dear _____,

There are challenges wherever you go.  The difficulty of your situation is that a person’s tendency is to compare the best of one thing with the worst of the other.  That is why comparing ourselves to others is so bad.  We only see their best that they present to the world, compared to the things we see as wrong within ourselves.  The same thing happens with places.  There is good in every place.  People are people.  I miss the surf of Southern California.  I miss the mountains.  I miss driving on freeways where other drivers actually know the rules of the road.

On the other hand, if I left Texas there would be a million things that I would miss about here.  The most Christlike thing is to do our best and make the best of any place.  I know that it seems you are doing that.  Just a reminder.

One thing that is very hard as a youth pastor is to meet the spiritual and discipleship needs of every student.  I have High Schoolers in my group that are much like you.  They don’t need to discuss God telling them not to do drugs, or why it is bad to lie.  They want to discuss predestination and the various paradigms of interpreting Revelation.  At the same time though, I have students who don’t understand what the New Testament is, who know almost all of their religious knowledge from Oprah, and believe that there is no difference between Christianity and Islam.  I have to meet the needs of all of these students, and all in between.  This is really hard.  If I teach something too difficult, then I lose the attention of some.  If I teach too elementary, then I lose the others.

I suspect (although I don’t actually know) that your youth pastor there is dealing with all of these tensions.  He is probably doing the best he can to meet the needs of all.  If he is like most youth pastors, he is probably pretty new to ministry (most youth pastors only have a shelf life of about 4 years—I am in my 13th), he is probably paid so little that he has to work another job, he is probably asked by many people when he is going to graduate and become a real pastor, he has some students coming up to him lately and complaining that the games aren’t fun enough, and others coming up 5 minutes later and complaining that there are too many games.  He probably desperately wants those students who don’t know Jesus at all to get to know Him, and just assumes that those who are more like you will just be fine “hanging in there” and be good examples to the rest.  He faces constant insecurity about all of the things he doesn’t have time to get to (I almost never get to send out birthday cards anymore—and I lose sleep over it—really!).  Some people at church are bothered by the fact that part of their tithe goes to pay a guy who “just plays with the kids,” and they don’t really care if he knows it.  While the teens are excited about the lock-in at church, he is thinking of all of the million things that could go wrong, and preventing them.  All of this, and there is that nagging verse where Jesus says that it is better to have a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the sea, than to lead one of these little ones astray.  Try doing a job with the God of the universe reminding you that you can’t screw up.

It is a hard calling.

I had a girl come up to me yesterday and tell me that in her little home group teen Bible study that she is running, they asked the question, “Whom do you most look up to in life?”  She told me that 4 of the guys said “Ryan.”  THAT is what keeps me going through all of what I wrote in the above paragraph.  But I didn’t say that to puff myself up.  I said it because there are little tiny things that keep a youth pastor going.

Here is what I would advise you to do.  Find out what you can do to help your youth pastor.  Go in before church….better yet, call him on a Thursday afternoon…and say, “Hey Eric (I’ve named him Eric), I’ve been thinking a lot and I realize that it must be really hard to do what you do, and a lot of people probably don’t even notice.  What can I do to help in youth ministry?   I am not trying to nose my way in, but I want to do whatever is needed.”  If you do that, chances are your youth pastor will write it in his diary and look it over for years whenever he’s down.

If you feel that the lessons aren’t deep enough, maybe you could start your own small group Bible study.  If you do this, it is very important to talk to your youth pastor and ask his permission first.  Don’t say “Hey Eric, your lessons aren’t good enough, so I want to start my own group.”  More like, “Eric, I was wondering if it would be cool with you if some of us teens met at my house for a really in depth Bible study.  Would you be willing to give me some ideas of how I could do it, and maybe come just once to teach us?”

Maybe you do all of this, and he just doesn’t care.  Maybe he just wants to only teach on David and Goliath and Don’t Do Drugs.  Maybe he’s a jerk.  There are even pastors who are.  But I doubt it.

We are doing the same little village in our 30 Hour Famine.  I have some big dreams for the future of this.  One step at a time.

Grace and Peace,

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