(student praying picture All rights reserved by CFCCSM)
About two years ago, I learned a valuable lesson about being a youth pastor. It was a Wednesday afternoon around 3pm, and I was in program mode. I was polishing my talk, running through the program schedule, reviewing the powerpoint slides for worship, returning emails to parents, and brainstorming game ideas. Needless to say, I was getting things done before youth group. Then, I had 3 high school students make an unexpected visit to my office. They entered my office with a hesitant “hi.” Clearly it was not youth ministry office hours. I was immediately annoyed because I knew these students were talkers and really needed my full attention, which I was not willing to give at the time. So I spun around in my office chair and asked “What is up?”
One of the students started talking about his school day and I was pretending to listen, but my mind and ears were not focused on what he was saying. I was listening but not REALLY listening. I was still trying to brainstorm another great game for youth group. 8 minutes passed (no I was not counting), and I had this random thought: I wonder what these students really need from their youth pastor?
So I let the student finish his story, and then I intensely looked at all three students and asked: “In your opinion, what should be the most important task in a youth pastor’s job description?”
Without a pause each of them answered: “Simply pray for us. In fact, that was why we’re here. We need prayer.”
I about had a heart attack. I blew it. I sensed a deep conviction in me because I was these students’ youth pastor and I was more focused on thinking about toilet paper dodge ball than attending to their spiritual needs.
The first thing every youth pastor should do for the students involved in his/her youth ministry is pray for them weekly!!!! Unfortunately, it seems that to some extent, the more experienced a youth pastor becomes, the easier it can be for him/her to focus more on programming. This is a great thing and indicates that you are a seasoned youth worker who knows the insane importance to planning. My point, however, is that: for some youth workers, (including myself) “default mode” is program and ministry management and not praying with and for our students.
Look at Mark 9:28-29:
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
The disciples even forgot to pray when they were doing ministry. The disciples thought they were seasoned ministers because they were hanging and traveling with Jesus and they still forgot to pray. I found myself praying more and more for my students when I first got into youth ministry. I would pray every Sunday morning for my students in my office my first two years in youth ministry. Five years into my youth ministry career, I was only praying from the front of the stage because it was a great transitional piece to the youth group program. Some where I along the line, I stopped praying for my students.
I have never forgotten the lesson that I learned on that Wednesday afternoon, 4 hours before youth group.
I think those three students gave me profound and practical insight into what should be our top priority as youth leaders. This was very hard for me to hear, because I thrive on youth ministry productivity and I love to get things done; and when my students interrupted my productivity flow, I was annoyed and didn’t know how to recover.
I was so motivated to put praying for student into action again, I created a prayer request form that I used for myself and for my adult volunteer leaders.
I am so nice I decided to make it available for everyone to use. It is nothing special but it does help you to track what students you are praying for. It is a useful resource to hand out to your small group leaders.
In all of my years in youth ministry, I have never had a student reject an offer of prayer. My students challenged me to ask the questions of:
How much hangs on the youth pastor’s intentional prayers for their students in their church community?
How many more committed non-parental adults do we need praying for the students of our community?
Where does prayer play a role in making a student’s faith sustainable?
**This post was inspired when I was eating a mexican lunch with a legit-intentional-smart youth pastor who was expressing his confusion about what he really needs to be focusing his time on in the midst of planning a summer camp, a mission trip, and youth group. After he got done sharing, I just randomly shared with him this important lesson I had learned about what my students really wanted from me as their youth pastor. After the lesson time was over. He told me, “You need to blog this”.