Looking back, I realize that by the time I was sixteen, I had already experienced most of the biggest experiences of my life, both good and bad: my dreams and all those magic moments remembered for ever -- that looked like nothing to everyone else, but which were everything to me; yes, and my most painful regrets, too -- the things I have spent fifty years and more trying to come to terms with, wanting them to be different. All the big things that show, all those adult transitions, most of them matter less to me now than things I thought or felt or knew or did between the ages of three and thirteen.
Ministry to and with children and youth isn't about thinking up fun stuff to do. It's not about keeping kids busy. It's about being aware of what is going on inside their minds and souls. It's about a profound respect for what God is doing that you can't see. And it's about communicating grace to those who cannot articulate their pain or fear or regret in certain situations. We do fun stuff and teach lessons and do all kinds of structured things -- but ministry happens in the cracks between the scheduled activities. And it happens when the kid chooses, not the adult: when that young person decides that you have built a sufficient relationship to be someone he or she can tell something to, or hear something from. Sometimes, you never learn the big moment they look back on, that they remember sharing with you -- unless they tell you in after years.
It's not about being cool; it's been a long time since I was cool, in any kid's eyes. It's about being real. And approachable. And it can't be rushed.