“What I have learned”

This guest post is written by Jay Kieve.  Before joining CBFSC in 2013, Jay served 21 years as a congregational minister. Jay is father to Jesse (20) and Emma (16) and husband to Melanie (age indeterminate ). He lives in Anderson, South Carolina where he walks for health and eats for pleasure.

Back in the 1900s (actually 1992, but it was the previous millennium) I resisted becoming a youth minister. I was 23, had a BA in religion and was pursuing a masters, and didn’t think I could be bothered with adolescent questions about God. I only accepted the call to be a youth minister to fulfill the divinity school requirement of church experience. “Field education,” they called it, and though I never saw a “field” in Chapel Hill I DID get an education. Now I confess, everything I needed to know, I learned by serving a youth group!

I learned how to plan a mission trip and recruit chaperones for camp. Those seem like rudimentary skills but I’ve used them every single year that I’ve been in ministry. Paying attention to detail; saying thank you; collecting forms and money; planning Bible studies; saying “no” a million times; ordering enough pizza, but not too much. Also Every. Single. Year. since 1992.

I didn’t know it at the time but nearly everyone’s questions about God are similar, variations on: could God love me? am I acceptable? is forgiveness real/possible? what does God want me to do? Struggling to answer the teenagers’ questions sent me searching. And for 20 more years of congregational ministry the answers I found became the basis for conversations with everyone from children to senior adults.

In youth ministry I learned to fail and seek forgiveness, when I inadvertently embarrassed a teenage girl. I learned that sometimes people don’t show up even when they say they will. I learned that the size of the crowd is not necessarily related to the quality of the ministry. And I learned that people and families who seem to have it all sometimes are barely holding life together.

Finally, I learned that vocation can be discovered in the church community. After serving the youth group for a couple years, a group of parents pulled me aside and suggested that I consider congregation ministry as my calling. I heard the Spirit of God through them and that has led to a life-giving and fulfilling ministry.

Everything I needed to know, I learned by serving a youth group. Taking seriously the perspectives, questions, and opportunities that come with youth ministry changed my life and ministry. I highly recommend it.