I was flipping through Instagram photos tonight when I saw something I didn’t expect. It was a picture of a photo in a frame on somebody’s wall of a little boy, about 8 or 9.
You know that thing where your brain recognizes a face for a moment, but you can’t quite place the name just yet? My brain totally beach balled for about 45 seconds as I tried to figure out who this kid was and where I recognized him from.
Then my brain put all the pieces together and I realized it was a photo of one of my youth group boys. My original group. From 2005. I’ve known this kid since he was in the 6th grade, except he’s not a kid anymore. He turned 21 this year. This kid that I’ve now known for coming up on half his life – half his life! I’m getting so old – I could take him out for beer if I wanted to. That is freaking insane. Because I still picture the lost little 6th grader I first knew whenever I think of him.
And honestly? I got a little sad. 6th graders are completely awesome. You can pick them up and throw them on top of each other (note to parents of 6th graders: I promise I’ve never done this to your sixth grader). You can make poop and fart jokes and it’ll be the most hilarious thing they’ve ever heard in their life. And sixth graders are still naive enough to think I’m cool.
But 6th graders don’t stay sixth graders. They turn into 7th graders, then 8th graders, then middle schoolers turn into high schoolers. Then they graduate, and some get jobs, others go to school, others join the military. Then life goes on and on and it’s all faster and more crazy than anything you might expect.
I never got it as a kid when adults said kids grow up too fast. But now that I’m approaching old fart status rapidly, I get it. In a way.
And I feel something deep inside: humbled. I don’t deserve to get to do this. I don’t deserve to get to talk into the deepest hurts and broken parts of a kid’s life. I don’t deserve to be part of a kid’s life for half their whole life. I’m not a parent, a coach or a teacher. I’m just a random guy.
And I don’t know why, but God picked me. I’m not the best. I am not very cool. I don’t have the best looks, have the most athletic abilities (ha!), or always know what to say. But God uses me.
I recently told a friend of mine that the best reason to give–money, time, whatever–is this: because we get the opportunity to be in the middle of something God is doing.
God is working everywhere, all around us. And in the past 10 years, I have seen God’s fingerprints all over hundreds of kids. I’ve gotten to be a small part of a big story that God is writing through these kids.
I’ve gone to court for these guys. I’ve gone to tons of games and band recitals. I’ve taken them to dinner, we’ve gotten ice cream, and we’ve gone to camp a bunch of times.
I wouldn’t trade a single one of those memories for all the tea in China. Because – for whatever reason – God chose to write His story in the hearts of His kids through my life.
The story was never and will never be about me. It should never be about how great I am – because I am not. But it is about how great our God is that He gives us the opportunity to be in the middle of the great work He is doing in the world.
This has reinvigorated my perspective on student ministry. An old proverb goes, “Children are young only once”, and I think that’s where I get sad. I get sad for my 8th grade class because I know I have made many mistakes. I’ve said things I immediately regretted and done things that were not quite right. And these guys will never get their 6th grade year back so I can do it better the second time. The opportunity God gives me is perishable.
I love middle school ministry. Honestly, I never expected in my wildest dreams to say that. But twice – twice! – God conspired to put me there. I ended up in middle school ministry twice – not because I went in with a deep love of 6th graders, but because I told God twice to use me wherever He thought best. Sometimes when I say that prayer, I secretly hope that means in some CEO chair or somewhere plush, fancy and great. But instead He sent me – twice! – into middle school ministry over all my protestations.
I never walked into this feeling prepared. And the few events I walked into, thinking I’d have it handled, I had my butt handed to me on a platter. There’s few things more chaotic, wild or weirder than middle school ministry. I’ve never felt more out of place in my life.
But, in another way, I have never felt more at home.
I was made for this.