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The good side and shadow side of ministry

Refer here for the background concerning these questions.

Today’s question: What was one of the first experiences you had (or heard about) in ministry that woke you up to the “good side” and “shadow side” of serving in the church?

Good side: The part of ministry that hooked me more than anything else was when I’d share my faith with a stranger, go through the Four Spiritual Laws, and then all of the sudden you see the spiritual light bulb click on. It’s that look of, “Woah, I finally get it!” and they pray to receive Christ for the first time. Now THAT can easily become an addiction!

Shadow side: I wrote out one of my first “shadow side” experiences for a seminary assignment. I’ll copy and paste it here and will revise the ending to meet our purposes (yes, I’m quoting myself):

As the Sr. High Director at a church for three years, my general job description was to strategically fulfill the purpose statement among 130 senior high students. The outreach/evangelistic aspect was always the weakest due to the amount of time required just to keep the discipleship, worship, and community aspects running smoothly. However, after about a year and a half a student and I decided it was time to do something radically different to reach a student culture this rich suburban white-boy community wasn’t reaching at all.

John was a junior in high school and a somewhat “alternative” dresser. He played in a Christian hard-core metal band and despite his edgy appearance, being expelled from a local Christian school, and kicked out of a different youth group, his outgoing personality and enthusiasm allowed him connect with several of our preppy youth group students without too much difficulty. It was by his suggestion and passion that the two of us decided to host a huge show of eight local bands consisting of three genres: hardcore metal, ska, and punk. In hopes of attracting a crowd of mostly unsaved students, we planned for one of those bands to be a popular secular underground band.

We were both excited about the idea and the evangelistic impact it would potentially have on the unreached student culture of our community. After approval from the youth pastor, John and I worked together on the 4-month process of organizing and planning this exciting event.

The big night finally arrived. I showed up at the church several hours early to help set up, answer questions, and arrange the church’s old sanctuary (now serving as one of our youth rooms) where the show would take place. To my surprise, the parking lot was already contained about 100 kids, all of them dressing their multi-colored hair, ripping holes in their clothes, and adorning their body piercings with rings and spikes.

I walked inside to find a couple youth group kids all nervously huddled in a corner talking about the kids in the parking lot, wondering how safe they were and if this whole show tonight was a big mistake. Despite their questions and concerns I was still very much excited and eager to reach this group for Christ that night.

Late in the evening the show was finally underway with high-tech professional lighting and sound. Strobe lights were flashing, bass was vibrating my chest, and 350+ students were thrashing around in front of the stage, most them who said this was their first time ever in a church building. To add to my excitement, I could see many of my volunteers talking and making good connections with the students standing off to the sides. However, the disappointing turnout of 10 youth group kids were off in another room quietly keeping to themselves, admitting their fear of what was going on in the old sanctuary and feeling content to just eat the chips, pretzels, and hot-wings that were donated for this event.

Everything was going well until the band member who was supposed to share his testimony and give an invitation failed to do so. After their set I asked him what happened. His response was a shrug followed by, “I dunno. I didn’t have time because I have to go straight to work” Confused, I struggled to quickly find an alternative to the original plan in order to have a clear gospel presentation for all these students. During this, however, I received a call over the radio by one of my adult volunteers saying I needed to meet him in the back as soon as possible.

When I reached my volunteer, he introduced me to a man who was apparently very angry. I affirmed his question that I was the one in charge to which he responded by identifying himself as an elder of the church. Apparently he was driving by and saw a group of “bad” kids smoking out front and decided to investigate. Clearly expressing his heated emotion, he asked for an explanation of what as going on in his sacred church. During our conversation I saw several other men walk in the door and congregate in another room. The elder I was talking to then proceeded to take me to that room where I met about six other elders and saw the Sr. Pastor looking like he was woken up from bed. I again had to explain what we were doing with these students, half-way through seeing the youth pastor arrive and walk in. (He could not be present for the show because he just got home from a missions trip that afternoon and desperately needed sleep.) After talking for about ten minutes, the elders told me that this event had to be shut down immediately and all the kids sent home.

How should I respond? And if I comply, how do I communicate this to John, who I knew would become angry at the church and “organized Christianity,” let alone communicating this to the hundreds of unsaved kids who would be kicked out of church?

Fun situation, huh? The conclusion is that we reached an agreement that the youth pastor would share his testimony and we’d end the event early. Fortunately, 14 students accepted Christ that night. All the kids were very understanding about having to leave early — they said they were used to it. John was flaming with rage for several weeks afterwards and I left like all desire for ministry was sucked out of me. Furthermore, the youth pastor almost lost his job over it due to the poor communication between him, the Sr. Pastor and church board about the event.

The most humbling part of it was that the 350 unsaved students that attended where absolutely the most respectful and appreciative students I have ever worked with. We had lots of free food, yet there was hardly any cleanup to do! I only found one upside down Oreo in a corner of the room — that’s it. No crushed chips or anything. We hardly had to vacuum! The ash tray outside the church door was so jam packed with hundreds of cigarette butts that the sand that coated the bottom was barely visible. After checking the area for butts left on the ground, I was in awe that I could only find two.

But anyway, this event sucked a lot out of me and made me pretty angry with the elder board. I confess that I felt some bitterness toward them for some time after that. :-|


Posted on November 12, 2005

  • Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for commenting on my site the other day. I think it’s cool when I get hits outside of my circle of friends. You never know who you’re going to come in contact with, and I’m thankful that you are another fellow youth pastor. It’s a comfort to hear from others that go through the same kind of crud and survive. :o) God is good, and just remember that you never know who you’re going to impact!

  • Lynn

    Amen Shannon! I never knew in the many years i had been working with Teens how much of an impact I was making until someone saw God in a better way and tried to make their life good b/c of it. It's amazing waht we can do through Jesus but on the same note, quite scary that we have all these young impressionable people listening to every word we say. God is AMAZING! We are so lucky to already know that!

  • Hey Tim –

    Thanks for commenting on my site! How many times have I run into this one when I was in youth ministry!? Lots. Yet…God uses all situations and I think that when you are doing something like a show you are on a teeter-totter, under the microsope from parents and hoping that this will reach the kids.

    Glad it all ended well!

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