Editor’s note: From time to time, we come across articles in church newsletters, individual blogs and other media that we believe may interest our readers. Today’s offering comes from Ben Kerns, pastor of youth and children at Marin Covenant Church in San Rafael, California. This article first appeared on his blog, Average Youth Ministry.
For the last few months, and if I am honest, maybe the last few years, I have realized that my heart towards student ministry and really towards students has changed. What has happened is that over the years and years of student ministry, years and years of fickleness, heartbreak, death and destruction, my heart has gone into protection mode. I think I just couldn’t take the heartache of walking through the chaotic lives of students anymore. And unintentionally, I moved into self-preservation mode.
I still provided an excellent program, excellent contact work, excellent trips, excellent talks, excellent discipleship, basically excellent student ministry—or by best attempt at excellence. But I did all of this with my heart somewhat removed. Being too intimately involved with students is really the hardest part of student ministry, and I think I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Thankfully, Jesus isn’t done with me yet, and he gently revealed to me that my heart has grown cold and distant towards my students. So beginning in December I prayed a simple prayer, “Jesus, please grow my heart towards my students.”
For one month I prayed this prayer every single day. As December transitioned into a new year, I felt hopeful for all that Jesus had in store for me and for our ministry. And to capitalize on this newfound hope, we happened to be heading off to winter camp the first weekend of January.
It was awesome! I fully embraced camp. I got into the campfire time, I enjoyed the speaker, I engaged in worship, and I lived fully invested in my students. Camp was awesome. Jesus is awesome! And, I am awesome! Everything was humming along.
For the last two weeks, I realized that Jesus did answer my prayer, but not the way I was hoping for.
Just as quickly as my passion and joy for my students arrived, it seemed to disappear. My hope for my students was quickly replaced with melancholy and a deep uneasiness about my students. What has changed? How can I be so fickle? I started to think I was going crazy and even considered a job change. But thankfully, Jesus revealed to me he actually has been faithful and has grown my heart towards my students. Just not the way I expected.
As my heart grew, I expected joy. However, what really happened is that my growing heart was now open for business again; open to grieve their anxiety, their pain, their lostness, their amorality, their lack of interest in Jesus or even the things of God, their hopeless.
I realized my heart was simply breaking.
As much as I long to be an amazing youth pastor and provide a program and facilitate relationships so our students have an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus, without loving the actual individual students, the rest of it doesn’t seem to matter as much. I would love to be an amazing youth pastor who has a huge heart of joy and hope for my students, but today, in this season my heart is broken, and that is a good thing.
So, this wasn’t the way I wanted Jesus to answer my prayer. But if my heart joins with Jesus’s in heartbreak, then I am confident that it will also join with his in his never ending pursuit of them as he leaves the 99 and runs after that one in danger.
May I, too, have a heart for those individual sheep who have run away and are in danger, partnering with Jesus to rescue them and invite them back into the family of God!
“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” Phil. 2:17