This is not the smoothest semester launch we’ve ever had. Some things have gone really well, like our drive-in last week, and some things have been a bit harder.
All of us who are changing how we run programming, or teach classrooms, or learn from classrooms, or manage offices, are doing so imperfectly, on the fly, and in a more vulnerable place than we’re probably comfortable with. I know I feel that way. We have spent the last two weeks launching all of our fall programming, with some in-person, some virtual, some as large groups outside, some as small groups inside. In total, on Sunday, Youth Ministries ran 11 different events, with 23 volunteers and around 75 teenagers. Having to run everything smaller means 10-15% less work per event, but 3 or 4 times as many events to meet not even as many kids. It’s a lot. It’s hard. We’re not doing it perfectly.
And when I checked my inbox and voicemails this morning — catalogs of questions and concerns and comments from every side – I know I was overwhelmed. The mountain of unknowns, the ambient anxiety of our families, the pastoral needs of our kids, the limitations of teaching online, the risks in doing anything else makes you want to shut your computer, go home, and let someone else, anyone else, give it a try.
When I was in grad school for youth ministry, one of the first and most basic things we were taught is “95% of ministry is showing up.” They meant showing up at games, at schools, at houses, practicing a ministry of presence, of simply showing up for teenagers. It’s such a staple in ministry education. I actually wrote about it once already. I wrote about volleyball games and late-night phone calls when you don’t know what to say, and how just showing up in those moments, even with seemingly nothing of value to offer, was what mattered.
So what does it mean to show up now?
When there are no games to go to, no lunchrooms to visit, when absolutely nothing feels adequate to address the hurt around us, what does it mean to show up? Of course, it means the sonic runs; if you don’t follow the Youth Ministries on Instagram you may not have seen, but the youth staff has been doing 5-7 home visits a week, almost all of them accompanied by sonic, and sitting in teenagers’ front lawns. It has been a gift to spend that time with families, even if all we had was cherry limeade and time.
But how else can we show up?
I think we can listen to the voicemails. Answer the emails. Follow up with the family that dropped off the Earth and ask why. Take the call from the family you know has opinions on how you work, and really listen. Try really hard at something, watch it fail, talk through it, hear all the reasons why, and then show up again, and try something else. Ninety-five percent of ministry is showing up, and, impossible as it seems, we just still have to show up.
I hope you hear your own experience in this. When your kids’ virtual learning isn’t going well for them, what does it mean to show up? When your team loses clients or has a project timeline derailed by a situation completely outside your control, what does it mean to show up? When the political fights get ugly, when your kids are at each other’s throats, when the treatment isn’t working, when you are confident you have absolutely nothing to offer to those you love and want to serve, what does it mean to show up?
Even more, to show up and believe showing up is enough? When God came to Earth to reconcile and redeem us, God’s action was simply to show up. How could we be called to more than that? Our redemption is found in a God that loved us so profoundly to turn away from any comfort gained by ignoring our suffering and to instead be in alongside us in it. Our redemption is found in a God who shows up.
We are called to be imitators of Christ. May we imitate Christ in this new way – in trying (for the fifth time) to log into the zoom room for the weekly family video chat instead of just giving up, in continuing to social distance even when we’re just so over it, in truly hearing out those around us who are frustrated, tired, and anxious themselves when we would rather just mute them. Maybe none of my experiences sound familiar to you at all; maybe you have never once the past six months fantasized about chucking your laptop into a lake and moving into a tiny cabin in the woods and letting someone else, anyone else, give it a try.
But maybe you have, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be frustrated, to take breaks, to need a few deep breaths and a walk outside, and to listen to loud music in your car alone for a while even after you’ve picked up the takeout.
But once you’ve had a minute, go back in. Show up. Show up for those people that love you, that need you, that have shown up for you. Show up for your family, for your friends, for your colleagues and fellow students, offering nothing but yourself and the grace God has given you to make it this far and trust that it is enough, that it is holy, and that if nothing else works out, you’re already 95% of the way to a ministry job anyway.
Director of Youth Ministries