The privilege of being a youth worker

Jen Bradbury
May 09 · 5 min read

The point at which I realized this school year was going to be a challenging year of ministry came even before it officially began.

It happened last August at a music conference I attended with several of my colleagues. Despite considering myself a musician (I've played the piano for 25 years), this was a conference in which I felt completely and utterly out of place. At it, the word “musician” meant only one thing: Singing.

Have I mentioned I don't sing?

At my low moment during this conference, I found myself standing in front of my small group, attempting to complete our assignment and lead our group in song. Unfortunately, about three measures into the song, I dissolved into tears. I cried an ugly cry – the kind that's embarrassing in front of friends, let alone in front of strangers.

Afterward, I realized my response was not entirely proportionate to the moment at hand. Sure, I was uncomfortable and overwhelmed, but neither of these things should have elicited this degree of an ugly cry.

So I began reflecting on the current state of my life. As I did, I concluded I was rapidly approaching burnout. Mine was a summer that, while blessed in so many ways, contained no rest. By the time I got to this conference, I was exhausted – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Far from energizing me, the prospect of beginning a new program year felt daunting.

I wish I could say that as soon as I returned home and dove into ministry, a switch flipped and these feelings changed but in reality, they didn't.

In so many ways, this was a difficult year for me. It was a year in which I constantly felt like I was hitting the reset button, something I find exhausting. This was due at least in part to the fact that last year's senior class was one with a large presence. Their departure left a gaping hole. As a result, this was a year in which our ministry's social dynamics were constantly shifting. This was also a year in which I was still had to deal with the normal, run-of-the-mill challenges inherently part of a youth worker's life: Students in crisis, scheduling battles, hurtful e-mails from church folk I'd inadvertently angered, & voicemails from upset parents. This was also the year in which I finished classwork for my master's and then dove headfirst into a culmination research project that required travel and countless hours of focus and work. It was also the year in which we finally got pregnant and then promptly experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage. To say this year has been an emotional roller coaster is an understatement.

This is a year that drug. I can't even tell you how many times I just wished for it to be over.

But now it's May. The year is finally over and yet, now I can't believe how fast it's gone.

I also cannot believe all the ways in which God has been faithful – to me, my ministry, the students and families I serve, and my congregation.

This week alone, I've seen God's faithfulness as I've poured over written applications for next year's student leadership team and read about the many ways in which God is using our high school ministry to powerfully impact their lives. I've spent hours interviewing these applicants, listening to them talk about how God is working in their lives. I've gotten to question, challenge them, and at times, literally watch them figure some aspect of their faith out right in front of me.

This week, I've put together prayer books for seniors and in reading the prayers our congregation wrote for them, marveled again at the beauty of the body of Christ and at the power (and necessity) of community. I've watched teens affirm one another during senior night and begin to see themselves through the eyes of others who sometimes see what they cannot. During this affirmation, I watched as siblings who normally fight declared peace just long enough to publicly share their love for one another. I've heard teens speak about how this community has supported them and shaped their actions outside of our church body.

Each of these moments has caused me to sit back in awe and wonder and marvel at what a privilege it is to be a youth worker. It's a privilege that honestly takes my breath away.

Truthfully, I cannot believe I'm saying that at the end of this year, a year that other than my first year has been the hardest I've ever faced in ministry.

Even so, what I'm discovering is that even in the hard years, there is nothing I would rather do; There is nothing I feel more passionate about; There is nothing that matters more than this. So today, more than anything else, what I feel is blessed; Grateful that God has called me to this weird, wonderful, and sometimes difficult world of youth ministry.

It really is a privilege to be a youth worker.