It was 4 a.m. when my cell phone rang one morning. Sheepishly, I picked up the phone and answered it.
“Hello,” I groggily replied.
“Wayne, they’ve taken my dad away. He wasn’t breathing. I’m so scared.”
I immediately shot out of bed. I found out he was on his way to the local hospital. When I arrived, the family was waiting. Twenty minutes later they got the news. Dad didn’t make it. I stayed and counseled and consoled. It was all I could do. About 11 a.m. that morning, I made it back to the office. I still had a full day of other things to do too.
I relay that story because many of us can identify with midnight calls, early morning hospital visits and late nights in the ER or on the phone. As a youth minister, you’re kind of like a doctor: you’re always on call. On a moment’s notice, you could be headed to the hospital because a student was in an ATV accident, football injury or had a parent admitted.
Sometimes ministry runs according to a schedule. A lot of times, it does not. You can’t control when life intervenes or when a student is going to drop by or call out of the blue. Often times, those are the moments you will do the most ministry.
A pastor once gave me this sage advice: They won’t remember most of your lessons or sermons. They may remember an example or an illustration. They will remember that when they needed you, you were there.
Despite what we think, the most important part of youth ministry isn’t the lessons we teach or the events we plan. Often, the most impactful thing we do is being present in the tragedy and triumph of life.
It’s why we attend ball games, and it’s why we rush off to the hospital when needed. It’s why I often grab a grieving student and take them to the movies for a few hours relief from the pain. It’s why I take phone calls in the middle of the night.
The most important thing you can do for a student is be available in their time of need. Now, you need to set boundaries, and that I’ll talk about in my next post, but you also need to be flexible enough to respond to tough circumstances.
Don’t let those opportunities pass you buy. That’s where most ministry occurs. Take advantage of it.