"Hey John, how's you're sex life?" the 17 year old youth group student asked.
"Umm, great, thanks for asking" I reply.
"So is mine!" he proudly boasts.
"what's up John?" A young man who used to be in our youth group asks.
"Hey man, how have you been? It's been so long. What have you been up to?" I sincerly respond.
"Just been getting drunk and having fun!" He aggressively asserts, knowing full well the pain that this news will inflict on me.
I shouldn't be shocked at these kinds of conversations or attitudes. Over the past 7 years of inner city youth ministry I've had countless conversations in the same vein. I imagine anyone in ministry has, or anyone who attempts to faithfully follow in the footsteps of the Suffering Servant.
Yet the pain of these instances is never lessened by experience and I pray it never will. I ask myself why seeing the boasting of sin in those that I have poured my life out for cuts so deep. I can honestly say that it grieves me to see God so blatantly mocked and rejected. I can also say in truth that my heart aches to see these souls deliberatly spit on God and chase after death and destruction. I shudder at the account that they will have to give some day before a holy and righteous God. I weep that they would rather drown in the toilet of the world than surf the crystal clear waves of God's beautiful joy and grace. These are sincere heartfelt responses to unrepentant loved ones. Yet I am ashamed to admit that these are not the only reasons that I weep and become discouraged. In fact they probably are not even the main reasons.
If I am honest, I must acknowledge that percieved personal failure is a major motivation for my sorrow over unrepentant and lost loved ones. Perhaps I look at all the hard work I have put towards trying to get these youth to enter into the self-ending, life-beginning, joy-saturated, life of worship to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and see nothing. No change at all. Sometimes it feels like working 80 hours a week for a year and never getting a paycheck.
Other times I look at the blindness and bitterness towards God and become ashamed at my laziness. Perhaps if I had worked harder, slept less, been more intentional and direct, showed more love...etc. The material for reflecting on my failure is inexhaustible.
Yet another response, similar to the ones above, is the feeling that not only have my efforts failed but they have produced animosity towards myself. These youth know that they are hurting me when they say these things. A punch in the face or a knife in the side (both of which I've experienced) would be more welcome. I feel personally attacked by these kind of comments. And I am. And it hurts.
Before I know it, I have lost sight of the sinner in front of me and more importantly lost sight of the God I am supposeddly trying to introduce them to. All I can see is me in all of my pathetic splendor.
So, I've explored and exegeted my responses to prideful unrepentance in those who are in or have been in my youth ministry (thanks for listening). What now? How do I grow from this?
First, I praise God that these experiences shake me up so. I praise Him that He uses this pain to stir my heart up. He brings up all the false idols, the sins of commission and ommission, and the self-love that lurks in my heart. Through these experiences God also patiently brings me back to mediatating and rejoicing in His sovereignty, grace, comfort, justice, omniscience, omnipotence, faithfulness and pretty much every other fancy word that attempts to help us understand the eternal God of the Bible. I praise God for this pain because this pain makes me praise God.
Second, I repent of the pervasive pride in which I live my life, the root cause of any illegitamate response to persecution. I trust in Jesus' work on the cross to forgive me and I trust in the Holy Spirit's work in my life to change me through His Word.
Next, I meditate on any other peripherial issues that have come to light. Things like laziness, love in relationships, ministry methods, Gospel clarity, boldness..etc. I repent if needed and adjust if appropriate.
Then I pray. I pray with fervor. I pray for these youth. I pray with urgency and newly rediscovered dependency.
Then, I get back out there and joyfully go and do what God will allow me to do. I get my hands messy. I put my head back on the chopping block. I do it with a joy that I carry the life-giving message of the Good God of the universe. I do it with confidence that He is shown to be strong in my weakness. I do it with unconditional love for the lost, friendly and antagonistic. I do it expecting to be persecuted as my Lord was persecuted. And I do it with a unsatiable longing to one day be done, basking in the glow of the glory of the Risen One.
Or at least that is what I should do.
by His grace
for His glory