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Play the Long Game

I made a joke the other day that I’ve stopped recognizing what day of the week it is and I’m just going by what week of the year it is. As the days have seemingly blended together I felt it would be easier to say, “Hey, it’s week 10 everybody!” It was quickly pointed out however, that it was actually week 14. So much for keeping track of what time is supposed to look like now in the long game. But then again in the realm of youth ministry something I need to be more ok with and actually focus on is the long game. 

A year or so ago (again, I have no idea what time actually is anymore) I found myself back (first attended in 2005) at one of the largest christian gatherings in the Czech Republic. It was the CB denominations main youth event that has been a tradition for longer than I can remember. It’s the classic youth event, sleeping on floors, live music, great teaching and seminars, and loads of time to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen for a long time. It  was the same experience I had in 2005 and something tells me it was like that long before that as well.

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This was my first time back in quite a while and I have to say I was very much enjoying running into people left and right. To see friends from my camp travel days was a thrilling experience and to see them growing up, getting married, some with kids was an added bonus. Even if the youth conference wasn’t changing its formula, the people who attended it were changing. But the biggest kicker came when I found myself in the main meeting hall with two of my youth leader buddies marveling at all the young faces we didn’t know. 

“Ya know, the first time I came here I didn’t know anybody, the next time I knew all the students, and now I only know all the youth leaders…”I remarked to my friends.

Then suddenly another guy, who wasn’t even part of our conversation at all says rather jokingly: “…And next time you’ll know all the pastors!"

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We all laughed again, mainly because of the “old guy” mentality we had. It wasn’t until later that the truth of it sank in: that next time I’ll know all the pastors. It was an incredible realization full of hope: these young men who I’ve walked alongside and watched mature in age and in Christ over the years would indeed one day be the pastors of this country. That was hands down the most challenging and encouraging realization from that weekend--a glimpse into God’s long game in building up the young Josiahs that will impact this part of the world through the church. 

Youth ministry is a roller coaster of ups and downs with young people. We celebrate their highs, we question ourselves when they walk away from God, or we scratch our head and wonder if he or she is ever going to “get it together?” We focus on the here and now in front of us and forget that our own life with Jesus is a long road to walk, and maybe we’ve done a lot of the same things they have, or experienced similar moments along the way. The willingness to stick with young people no matter the circumstances, to walk that same road with them toward Christ is a long commitment. It requires endurance, perseverance, and a willingness to stay the course. A lot of people have walked with me, why shouldn’t I do the same? 

If this last year has taught me anything at all it’s that this marathon approach to ministry, while hard to run, is one of the most important challenges I’ll encounter. Students who become youth leaders and turn into pastors are years in the making and not guaranteed. But if glimpsed this side of heaven, a privilege, for the ones who have run alongside the whole way.



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