Or, “Why I Spend So Much Time at Middle School Volleyball Games.”
I am a huge believer in the ministry of showing up.
If you look through the youth ministries Instagram page, or through a Facebook album called the “Brag Book” — you’ll see dozens and dozens of photos of youth, not in the Justin Building, but reciting Shakespeare, sinking 3-pointers, hitting perfect serves, winning academic awards, and leading their communities. I consider myself a connoisseur of middle and high school fine arts and athletics. From middle school one acts to high school rivalry football games, I love it all.
Going and seeing kids in plays and shows and games is a facet that’s pretty unique to youth ministry, and it’s THE BEST. I love seeing kids I care about in their element and love getting to sit next to parents as they gush and beam over their teenagers. I consider it among the most productive and valuable of the hours I work. Practically, it earns miles of credibility with youth as they see that you’re willing to come to them, it helps you understand the universe of the kids you work with better (What is their school like? What are their friends like? How do they fit into their environment?) and it gives you something to talk about with that youth.
Theologically, something even richer is happening. In fancy words, it’s an act of incarnational ministry. Incarnational Ministry is based on the idea that just as God was incarnated fully into our world to walk alongside us in Jesus, we are to step fully into the world of another and walk alongside them. That we show the love if Christ to those around us by being entangled in their lives, mourning when they mourn, and rejoicing when they rejoice. For me, that rejoicing just happens to be at middle school orchestra concerts and tennis matches.
Incarnational Ministry is just the fancy terminology for the truth that 95 percent of ministry is showing up. In good times, in bad times, in their victories and defeats and joys and heartbreaks, it’s showing up and being with someone in all of it. It’s holding someone in mind enough to think to ask when their next game is and whether they got that part.
Love is about showing up. And showing up. And showing up. It’s not letting someone slip through your fingers, holding them in your mind and in your prayers. When I was a teenager, my sister came out, and stopped going to church. For the next six months, a youth leader we had would call our house and leave voicemails inviting her to things, over and over and over again, no matter how many times she didn’t call him back and didn’t show up.
I don’t know if that youth pastor even remembers the voicemails. But I do. I remember at least a half-dozen of them. I remember hearing them and being curious about a love so marvelous and extravagant and reckless to keep calling no matter what. My sister never came back to church.
But I became a youth pastor.
And so I’ll call and text and send notes and bend over backwards to go to as many basketball games and cheer competitions as I possibly can. Because love is about showing up.