Breaking Down Barriers (While Keeping Some Boundaries)
By Aaron Thompson
In Part 1 of this post, I wrote of my personal journey from no boundaries in ministry to high and sturdy boundaries, then to the conviction that I was missing something. Over the course of this school year, God has used times of prayer and worship to push me toward hospitality. For my family, that got radical fast. We started small: opening our home a little more often. Before we knew it, there was a student living with us! That story is still very much in progress. How did I get to that point so quickly?
For years I’ve felt the tension of balancing the behind-the-scenes work of ministry with the frontlines work of caring for students. Student crises meant stepping away from important administrative work; time praying, reading, and preparing at my desk meant taking time away from kids. I’ve gotten whiplash dancing back and forth between the two, always feeling guilty about whatever piece of my job I wasn’t attending to on a given day or week. For the last four months, I’ve tried to flip things around.
Rather than scheduling coffee or dinner out with students, I’ve started inviting them into my life. I ask them to be a part of my normal, mundane day. I’ve had student leaders come over and watch Netflix while dreaming up ministry ideas. Other students have jumped in to help me work on nuts and bolts projects around the youth room. One night instead of playing video games by myself, I opened my doors and had high school guys drop in to game with me. Another night a student stopped by and watched the Bulls lose a heart breaker with my three-year-old and me.
The outcome has been fruitful for both my students and my family. In December my son came on a trip to the mall with a bunch of students and me. After the trip, one student said, “Wow, Aaron, I don’t ever get to see you be a dad. That was cool.” For my son’s part, he’s begun praying faithfully for his youth group friends before bed each night, and he has a much clearer sense of why daddy is always gone on Wednesday nights.
Another student is finding my (very plain, very boring) office to be safe space when life gets crazy. We spend large chunks of time licking envelopes and sorting paperwork together. I used to drop my deskwork to go out and respond to students in crisis. Now I have students in crisis doing deskwork with me. It’s been an interesting, upside-down season.
In the end, I’m still sticking close to my 45-hours-per-week schedule. And I still protect most Tuesday nights for hanging out with my son. I always turn my phone off at night, and I never check email from home. But things are different. A larger chunk of those 45 hours are now spent walking alongside students, and for the first time in a while, asking them to walk alongside me.
No exciting new program. No new paradigm. Just me opening myself up, daily, to the people God has placed before me. As I dream new dreams for my youth ministry, read the latest books on programming and philosophy, and work to strengthen our church’s engagement with students, I don’t want to lose track again of that simple, biblical joy of simply opening my life to those God has called me to love.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More