I’m not an idiot. But when it comes to student ministry, I started out as one.
When I entered my very first fulltime student ministry position, I was dripping with naivete’ and the proverbial cape on my back and a huge “S” on the chest of my blue unitard. As it turned out, the “S” stood for “Stupid Young Youth Pastor So Gonna Burn Out If He Doesn’t Learn Stuff Quick!”
I started in fulltime ministry at a church in Winchester, VA. While I left that particular ministry nearly 13 years ago, they’re probably still recovering. I arrived in town a week after graduating from college and that new college grad smell was still fresh.
And my first flash of idiotness was summed up in these four simple words: “You bring the ice.”
My very first volunteer youth leader was an incredible man named Jerry Mounts. I’ll never forget Jerry as long as I live. Without a word, he taught me so much about effectively loving and leading students. Unfortunately most of what I learned from him wouldn’t be absorbed until years later. Don’t forget, I was the one with the answers to the questions. And when you’re fresh from college, you’re less than teachable. After all, you had just been taught everything and now it was time to execute, right?!? Or so I thought.
Jerry Mounts owned a refrigeration business. So you can guess that he owned his own ice machine. Not the kind in your fridge, but the industrial size ice maker you see in places where a lot of ice is needed.
Once I knew that Jerry had an ice machine, this became his standing assignment for all youth events: “Jerry, you bring the ice. Thanks.”
I never asked Jerry his age at that time. But if I had to guess, I’d say early to mid 40’s. He had a son in college and a daughter in high school. And here I was swooping in at the ripe old age of 21, essentially saying, “Step aside, Jerry. I’m here.”
And something else I never asked Jerry: to do anything but “bring the ice.” I completely dismissed and discounted every other aspect of Jerry’s enormous, infectious, and totally beloved personality and completely failed to leverage that for an even more fruitful ministry to teens.
Why? Because I didn’t need Jerry to do anything but bring the ice for the drinks.
There’s an insane part of Jesus’ earthly ministry that just blows me away everytime I read it. It’s found in Luke 10. Jesus is well into his 3 years of public ministry. He has spent the majority of His time developing His disciples. In essence, He was cloning Himself in those around Him. There were 70 sent out–35 pairs of little Jesuses going out and doing what Jesus did: healing, touching, teaching, raising, casting out demons, and all the things that Jesus Himself was doing. Jesus didn’t tell the 70, “Just get out there and kill time til I get there to help these people.” He didn’t say, “You can’t do what I know how to do. So just entertain the crowd until I show up.” And He definitely didn’t tell anybody, “You bring the ice.”
As a ministry leader and influencer, one of my greatest successes is realized when I see the ministry I lead happen without me. And I’ve long since given up the egotistical notion that nobody can do it like I can. The funny thing is, that’s true. Nobody can do it like me. The egotistical part comes in when I actually think that’s a bad thing.
So, my ministry these days is primarily wrapped up in my interaction with adult leaders and student leaders. It’s not that I don’t care about every student. It’s that I care about every student so much, I’m willing to admit (not hard anymore) that I can’t possibly effectively minister to that many students.