I am a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. I am clinging to the ground on the edge of a tarpit about to be sucked in. I am a youth pastor (or as some would prefer I say, youth director).
In junior high I quite clearly felt the call of God, and if you don't get that, I'm sorry, it's not easy to put into words. I knew this was what I was supposed to do, and all dreams of being a zookeeper went out the window (although there are some similarities). I had my parents who warned me that it was going to be rough as they lived through years of church drama, a high school teacher who told me it wasn't economically sound, and a college professor who told me if there was anything else I thought I could do, I should do it, because this was tough. This job has always been more than the money, more than the drama, more than just a job.It is not my identity, but it is a huge part of who I am, what God gifted and created me for. Youth ministry as a calling and a career has it's limits though, like the tiny arms of a T-rex.
It is an honor and a privilege to walk with students and their families through the dark years of adolescence, and help them to see that God is with them, he loves them, and his plans for them are amazing. It is by no means easy though. Each year our group is totally different as kids graduate, move up grade levels, or move away. The ways that we minister to students is always changing, as each generation has different technology and challenges. You can rarely use the same curriculum twice, you can't count on those that you are serving to even show up every week. It is a lot of nights, weekends, and weeks away from your own family. It's a lot of tears shed with families through tragedy, and tears shed for students who you know are hurting themselves. For all the challenges though, it is amazing to see the growth in students, to build a community where they feel safe being themselves and to help them understand who Jesus is. It is exhilarating to see students change and become life changers themselves, to help empower them to make a difference in the world. That privilege though, is threatened everyday. Churches are constantly downsizing, and the first to go is always the youth pastor. While we are the ones constantly evolving to meet the needs of those we serve, we are the ones easily dispatched at the first signs of trouble in a struggling church. We get the short end of the budgeting stick always.Many churches are taking their youth and children's ministries to part time positions, and those churches suffer. Or they hire one person to do what I do, cover ages preschool through college, and then we get spread very, very thin. It is a privilege to work as a youth minister, but it's not something I can cast aside or move on from, it is my evolutionary handicap, and right now I am a cold blooded reptile on the verge of the ice age.
There are bigger churches, with bigger budgets, that have staff coming out their ears, but for me, most of those churches are not an option, because I am not only a youth pastor, but I am a girl. God may have gifted and created me to do what I do, but for a lot of churches, many of those big, cool ones, my gender makes me unqualified to be a leader. They interpret scripture in a way that makes what I do a sin. That makes my blood boil. How, how can you look at the work I have done for sixteen years, and say that God was not a part of it, that I wasn't supposed to do it? God made me a woman, God made me a leader, and so I guess God also made me a dinosaur.
So I am a dinosaur, running from that volcanic lava flow of shrinking budgets and archaic theology. I am trying to live as the person God created me to be, for as long as I can. I will do my best to survive and walk with students. And if you see me working the register at Target someday, a fossil in my red polo and khakis, know that I fought hard. Gaze at my bones on display, picked clean of the work that brings me more joy than heartache, and know that I tried. I will follow God into the tarpit, I am a dinosaur on the verge of extinction.
NOTE: currently the elders of my church are not in discussion about this, they have taken the idea of laying me off, off of the table for now. This is the reality though, for many of my colleagues and could be the reality for me in the future. Like many other professions these days, youth ministry is waning, and youth pastor hours are being reduced or eliminated and have been for years.