Youth Ministry In A Celebrity-Seeking World. . .

A car ride with someone I don’t really know is one of my favorite things. I realize that may sound a little bit creepy and it goes against one of the most basic of childhood warnings issued by parents (“Don’t get in the car with a stranger!”). . . but let me explain.

My travels typically include pick-ups and drop-offs at airports. Those rides can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to three hours (trips to North Dakota!). Getting to chat with my youth worker/chauffeur is always fun. I find out about their lives, their ministries, their families, and some of the unique and interesting stuff flying past us outside the window.

This morning, I was thinking back on a ride and conversation I had with a young youth worker who was driving me to the airport so I could catch my flight home. I had already spent some time with him at a conference over the course of the previous couple of days and had come to appreciate his energy and enthusiasm related to ministry. On our ride, he was telling me about the neediness of his students and his desire to see them come to know and serve Jesus. The conversation morphed into him sharing his dreams for his youth ministry future along with a request for me to speak out of my experience (I was almost twice his age) with some advice. I treasure, respect, and aspire to that kind of teachability in my own life. The reality is that you never get to old to stop learning. In fact, the passing of days should lead to an ever-increasing sense of how much you don’t know, which results in a hunger to learn more.

My advice to my young friend was pretty simple. . .

First, embrace your calling and pursue it with humility and excellence. Always be satisfied with where God has you. You are where you are for a reason. Just as Jesus was a particular person sent to a particular people at a particular time in a particular place with a particular mission/message, there is a God-ordained particularity to the unique calling we each have. Our culture (and youth ministry culture), especially in today’s world will try to get you to grab for more, but settle where you’ve been set. Seasons of difficulty will ramp this up. . . so, be careful.

Second, make your own spiritual growth priority and passion #1. Whether you are a youth pastor, pastor, teacher, volunteer, parent. . . whatever. . . you can never lead well until your have your heart set on being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul’s words to Timothy were recorded in II Timothy 3 so that they might ring true for each of us as marching orders as we lead those entrusted to our care.

Third, continue to work to improve yourself by studying, studying, and studying some more. Dig deeply into the rich history of those who have been faithful followers of Jesus Christ in ages past. . . both the near and distant past. A little clarifier here: I find great value in reading those who write presently if I want to dive more deeply into understanding the spirit of our times. But when I want to go more deeply into what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, I tend to walk back into the past. I find that a growing tendency with what’s being offered up today is driven more by a Christian publishing world that wants to feed on the market, rather than producing the kind of rich, deep, and sometimes difficult to swallow spiritual food that might help “the market” feast upon what it really needs.

And fourth, surround yourself with a good accountability circle. These are people who know you, who love you, and who are not afraid to say what needs to be said to keep you on the path to faithfully following Jesus rather than yielding to the temptation to follow yourself into developing yourself into “a brand” that generates a following. I need. . . we all need. . . a circle of accountability partners rather than minions.

I know that’s not necessarily all or the best advice I could give. But at the moment, it seemed like that was the best way for me to encourage my young friend and speak reminders to myself.

I continue to think quite a bit about many of the conversations I’ve been having with young youth workers in recent years. Not all of them have endeavored to be, like my friend in the car, the best where they’re at. Increasingly, I’m sensing the presence of that seductive pull all of us humans face. . . a seductive pull that is amped up in our culture of social media, reality shows, YouTube celebrity, podcasting, blogging, self-publishing, and all the other tools that allow us to attempt to satisfy our insecurities by working to build a following. There’s a desire to move from where we’re at to a place of fame and fortune that we imagine (or believe) will make us complete. While the quest is very real and can become consuming, the target is neither noble or even remotely satisfying. And with us working and living a calling to correctly handle, teach, and live out Genesis to Revelation, shouldn’t we know and do better?

This morning, I recalled these words from writer John Green, who advises aspiring young writers, “Don’t make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough,” And then these words from David Foster Wallace that apply not just to money and things, but to celebrity as well: “If you worship money and things … then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.”

In her new book, Celebrities for Jesus, Katelyn Beaty does a fantastic job of both exposing the dangers of Christian celebrity, along with attempting to steer us away from the pursuit of such. She writes, “The vast majority of us will run our own races in ordinary, unglamorous ways, off the stage and off the  screen, Almost all of us will live and die being known and loved (if we are lucky) by a small circle of friends and family – the people whose connection to us is deepest and most lasting because it was formed in daily, embodied, humble ways. For every famous saint, there are millions of ordinary ones. Ordinary people are the primary way God has worked in and through the world over the centuries. More and more, though, it seems that a lot of us aren’t content to be ordinary Christians.” 

These are good reminders for all of us. Sadly, it takes some people until the end of their lifetime to realize just how true these words are. Don’t make that mistake. Realize this truth closer to the front end of your lifetime and you will experience the joy of truly understanding and experiencing the blessedness of living faithfully into your particular vocation and calling.

Never forget this mantra we must speak to our selves: Seek the spotlight, and it will blind you. Hubris led our first parents to learn that lesson in the Garden. Sadly, that same hubris continues to steer us off course. As my friend, poet Steve Turner, has written. . .

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No-one listens.


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