I spent about fifteen years in student ministry before joining the staff of my current church to serve with our creative arts team. One of my former students asked me to officiate her wedding last weekend. She was getting married in Dallas and her family was gracious enough to put me up at the Marriott where they were staying. Little did I know that across the street from my hotel, at the Sheraton, the National Youthworkers Convention was taking place. The student ministry team from the church where I currently serve was there and I had the chance to spend some time with them.
Remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz where everything turns from sepia tones into amazing Technicolor? Walking into the world of the NYWC was a little like that. It was as though I had never left. I saw old friends from my student ministry days, listened in on a couple of break out sessions and had lunch with my church’s student ministry team.
At one point I was visiting with Tammy, who was volunteering in the convention bookstore as she does every year. She is a long-time student ministry veteran and her love for students oozes out of her. I was looking at her convention lanyard with this year’s theme:
“Cool name tag,” I thought, wondering if anyone was going to wonder why I didn’t have a lanyard. I wasn’t really attending; just crashing the party. “I wonder if they’ll ask me to leave since I’m not really supposed to be here.”
Tammy assured me, “They won’t mind if you don’t have a lanyard. You look like you belong here.”
I looked at the crowd of people milling about. Some young, some not so young, some considerably older. Some were hipster, some were whatever the opposite of hipster is. I wondered if I looked hipster or opposite. But, Tammy was right and I realized something that is true about student ministry that isn’t true about any other area of church work.
Youthworkers don’t have a shelf life. I’m not talking about the youthworkers who are in it as a step toward something they think is bigger and better. I mean the ones who are in it for the long haul, the true believers like the student pastor in his late 60’s that is just as effective at reaching students as the college-aged intern I know who is just starting to get his feet wet in student ministry. What they share isn’t generational. It’s vocational. They share a calling to love God and love students.
Regardless of what my job description says, I realize that you can take the pastor out of student ministry, but you can’t take the student ministry out of the pastor. The men and women who are called to serve students never get too old for it. They just find other ways to follow their calling.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.