By David Prairie
I’ve loved youth ministry since I was in high school. After graduation I stayed involved with the youth by serving as a small group leader and later as an intern. My undergraduate concentration was in youth ministry. So, when my home church asked me to fill the role of youth pastor in May of 2011, I was honored. Now I’m nearing the end of what has been a seven-year journey. I have more memories than I can document in a single article. But I feel compelled to share what I will miss about this unique and richly varied aspect of the local church.
I’ll miss coming in to a nearly empty building on Sunday mornings, praying for the students that I would see that day, and asking God to awaken young people to the glories of the Bible. I’ll miss watching students play horrible games of ping-pong while waiting for services to officially begin. I’ll miss helping people pray through Scripture, showing them how the Bible’s words are our words, and that we must petition God with the phrases and sentences and paragraphs he has given to us.
I’ll miss singing with our students. Sometimes the music was loud, and that was fine. But even better was when the music was softer, and the room was filled with voices declaring the praises of the High King of Heaven and the wonders of the gospel.
I’ll miss seeing students grow in their faith in evident ways. We’ve seen to students come to Christ, be baptized, and utilize spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church. Praise the Lord for visible fruit! And praise him also for what is now only seen and known by him.
I’ll miss watching students participate in the services by playing instruments, singing, advancing slides, setting up chairs, passing out bulletins, reading Scripture, leading in prayer, and sharing testimonies. I’ll miss seeing students advance from small group participants to small group discussion leaders, taking the things that have been passed on to them and equipping others with those things. I’ll miss watching students interact with encouragement, pray with and for each other, and help one another follow Jesus.
I’ll miss preaching and teaching weekly. I’ll miss looking over a crowd of students and leaders, who, even as they listen to me, have their eyes on the Bible and not on the speaker. I’ll miss the rigorous study that goes into being prepared to preach. Many weeks I would sit at my desk with stacks of books around me and pray fervently for God to help me to see the things in his Word that the students needed to see. I was always inadequate for the task, but never hesitant to take it on.
Students sometimes commented that, during my preaching, on occasion my voice would catch, or my expressions would change, or my hands would go up when attempting to articulate the wondrous mysteries of the Scriptures. I didn’t mind that they noticed, and I hope that if I did express excitement, that it was over the text and not over anything trivial. And if it was over the text, I hope the excitement was contagious.
I have spoken long about the preaching ministry, and that is no accident. For me the public teaching was central. There are many things our ministry could have done without, but I would not have survived without the regular attention to the Word that is necessary for the proclamation of the text.
Yet I also am grateful for the way our regular time in the Word shaped our interest in serving others in our community and around the world. I’ll miss service projects where I watched students prepare boxes at the Food Bank, dig gardens at Hope for the Inner City, minister to children at homes, participate in work projects with Habitat for Humanity, clean up after storm damage, rake leaves during the fall, deliver food and gift baskets during the holidays, and pass out church literature on downtown streets and in local parks. I’ll miss watching students give time and money to missionaries and missions projects. I’ll miss listening to them ask serious questions during missions conferences, and hearing from missionaries that our students asked the best questions.
I’ll miss participating in short-term mission trips. I’ll miss the planning and prayer that goes into such trips. I’ll miss long van rides and plane rides with students, often chatting with them about how the Lord might use them to advance the great commission. I’ll miss watching them interact with total strangers, not shying away from opposition, but often tackling it head on. I’ll miss debriefing with mission teams at the end of the day, praising the Lord for the opportunities to serve him with one another and praying for those we had interacted with. I’ll miss laughing together with a joy that is unrivaled.
I’ll miss our retreats. It’s nearly impossible to explain the satisfaction of watching dozens of students just “hanging out” at these events. I’ll miss selecting themes for these events, whether it was discipleship or the Reformation or simply reading through the Scriptures. There are no words to explain the fullness that was ours when we simply went away to read the New Testament over a weekend. Those moments can’t be replicated.
I’ll miss one-on-one meetings with students. Often, I’ll invite young men to lunch and attempt to invest in their lives as much as possible. I’ll miss sharing meals with students, recommending books to them, praying with them and for them, listening to them pray for me, and keeping one another accountable. Other times, students will pull me aside or text me and ask to hang out and talk. I’ll miss their transparency and their candor. I’ll miss them asking me for advice and to pray for them. I’ll miss them asking difficult theological questions, and helping them to wrestle through the implications of a biblical worldview for life.
I’ll miss helping students through difficult situations and being helped by them through my own. During times of loss, stress, and confusion, it was the comfort expressed by young men and women that was the most meaningful. I pray that I was half as much of a blessing to them as they were to me.
I’ll miss working alongside the most phenomenal group of fellow leaders imaginable. I’ll miss watching them disciple students by simply spending time with them, listening, guiding, and loving. I’ll miss having these people volunteer to assist with activities and events, and never having to feel like I was inconveniencing them because of their genuine desire to serve in the ministry. Many of these fellow servants are some of my best friends and greatest supporters. They have sharpened me, helped me to think about things I never would have without them, and challenged me in edifying ways. They have been strong where I have been weak. Veteran leaders have helped to train new leaders, so that ministry might be effective for generations to come.
I’ll miss hearing graduating seniors testify to the work of the Lord during their time in our ministry. I’m glad to have the chance to hear such words one more time this May. And I pray that my future paths will cross with many who have come through the youth ministry at Grace.
As far as I know, I’m not dying yet. Lord willing, I’ll have opportunities to minister in like manner in different places and among different people. I’m hopeful that my service to Christ in this life is only beginning. But whether my time on earth is short or long, I’m honored to have gotten my start as the youth pastor at Grace. To God alone be the glory.