Last Wednesday was our first youth ministry meeting of the school year. It was a night of laughter, fun, and joy; A night when upperclassmen welcomed underclassmen into their midst with open arms.
For our first night, we played a series of typical, albeit crazy, youth group games. Our final game of the evening was “Blindfolded Drawing”. During this game, several blindfolded people drew what others in the room told them to draw, one item at a time. The result? A random, nonsensical, hardly recognizable drawing and lots of laughter.
As we neared the end of the game, one of my students commented on how the adults should play. Knowing that I had, thus far, avoided playing any games I decided I better heed the warning and do so.
So I, along with my other adult leaders, donned a blindfold and began drawing.
First, we drew a box. Then we drew an ape lifting the box. Then we added chocolate syrup being poured into the box. Next came the 12 apostles playing ring-around-the-rosie next to the box. A while later, we gave each of the apostles shoes. Finally, we drew a football player.
And just like the students before me, I drew each item as I was blindfolded, unable to see who was talking.
Despite this, each time I was told to draw something, I knew who was speaking because I recognized the voices of my students.
Having listened to these students share their hopes and dreams, their frustrations and worries, their joys, their heartbreaks, their fears, their pain, and their stories with me for over two years, I now know their voices and can recognize them – even when I can’t see them.
In the same way, when blindfolded, my students could recognize my voice.
Because they know me. Just as I know them.
That night, I fell asleep thinking about this and the next morning I awoke pondering John 10:3-5:
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought that in this passage, the sheep follow their shepherd, Jesus, because he calls them by name and leads them. I’ve paid little, if any, attention to the fact that we’re told “The sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
Because they hear it on a daily basis.
Day after day, month after month, year after year, the shepherd is WITH his sheep.
And because of this, the sheep know his voice, even when they cannot see their shepherd.
That, to me, is a beautiful picture of youth ministry at its best.
As youth workers, we recognize Jesus’ voice because we spend time with Him. He is our shepherd who is with us always, even during those times we fail to see Him.
And our sheep – our students – recognize our voice because they spend time with us. They know us because we are present in their lives – through their pain, heartbreak, questions, doubts, struggles, joys, and accomplishments. Our constant presence enables us to tangibly point them to Christ, time and time again, until finally, if we’ve done our job right, they not only recognize our voice, but that of the One who is their true shepherd.