…When I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God…
Fifty-two years of age seems old for a youth worker. When I started in youth ministry at Youthfront at the age of 18-years-old I was still a teenager myself. I had the stamina of an Eveready Energizer Bunny. I lived for all night lock-ins, long road trips and non-stop sports competition. My energy source was a steady diet of McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Middle school kids were my favorite (probably because I was too close in age to high schoolers). Middle school kids didn’t wear me out. They energized me. I loved the fact that they weren’t jaded. They weren’t too cool to admit that they didn’t know something and they were curious about everything.
A lot has changed since those early days of youth ministry. I quit doing all night lock-ins ten years ago, a long road trip now is a drive to Youthfront Camp South and right now (with my aching lower back) sports competition is something I watch.
For the last seven years my personal passion has been youth ministry with late adolescents. Pre-adolescent ministry happens with young people ages 10 and 11 (approximately); Early Adolescence stages cover ages 12 to 14; Mid-adolescence stages are 15 and 16 year olds; and Late Adolescence covers from 17 to as late as 24 to 25 years of age.
I wonder if I focus on Late Adolescents because they are more focused, more thoughtful and require less physical energy to keep up with? I am intrigued by the reality that Late Adolescence is the time when a majority of young people leave church. I’m challenged to engage Late Adolescents in evangelism, discipleship and Christian formation that nurtures them in a consistent walk with Jesus Christ and engagement in their church community.
However, I am the President of an organization that works with thousands of pre-adolescents and middle school kids. Youthfront is also partnering with Stuck in the Middle Ministry. Stuck in the Middle has twelve weekend conferences around the country involving several thousand middle school kids. We are doing Youthfront’s Feed the Hunger initiative at all the conferences. We worked really hard getting the curriculum and program together for a transformational encounter with the serious issues of spiritual hunger and physical hunger. At the first conference it became apparent that the middle school kids weren’t too interested in the information part. They didn’t want to really linger over the scripture. They wanted to do the tasks – package the meals and write messages on the shipping boxes to the children who would receive the food.
Yes, this is how they learn. Some of the verses will sink in, maybe as they are falling asleep or when they sit still long enough to think back on all the reasons they participated in Feed the Hunger. But I was reminded how old I feel trying to keep up with middle school kids. For now, I will let our younger staff wrestle with the joys and energies of this age and I will stick with the high school and college students.
However, I have a sweet little granddaughter named Lexi that is only seven years away from pre-adolescence so I’m saving up my strength for one more round of middle school ministry. I can’t wait.
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. Psalm 71:17, 18