Josh. I had a kid in my youth ministry named Josh. He came from a broken home, he didn’t do very well in school. He was horrible at sports. He loved to draw, loved to play video games, and pretty much anything he could do by himself. He was the kind of kid that if you wanted to find out what was going on in his life, you had to ask about 1001 questions. He would never really be the superstar of a club at school, a sports team, and certainly not a youth group (Don’t get all pious on me, we all know we have our superstars in our youth ministry).
Josh was the kind of kid that when you didn’t completely forget that he was even at youth group, and you tried to pour into him, it seemed like he would fight you every step of the way. Kids at Josh’s school nicknamed him wallpaper, because he always seemed to blend into the wall. I would try with Josh, I would try really hard. I would take Josh out to lunch, I would seek Josh out at our weekly gatherings, I would text him, Facebook him, the whole nine.
I would sometimes wonder why I put so much time into Josh, because I wasn’t seeing much return of investment. Josh wasn’t really growing, wasn’t coming out of his shell, wasn’t always consistent in attending. There was no tangible fruit, pouring into him didn’t help my youth group in a large way. There was no obvious or substantial reason for me to pour into him.
I did have some great teens in my ministry, teens that if I took the time I gave to Josh and used it for them it might have grown my ministry more, they would have made better decisions with their life. Teens that were more outgoing, teens that had more influence than Josh, teens that I could have pointed to and be able to say “Look at how awesome that teen is doing, all because I took him to McDonalds for an hour.” I mean lets be honest, to a degree, we feel better about our ministry by the choices made by those we pastor and lead. We fall asleep at night feeling good or bad based, to at least a small degree, on our sheep’s spiritual walk. We also are very selfish in our discipleship, basing it on who is going to be the best use of our time to grow our ministry, or bring their gifts and talents to use in our church. I can’t tell you how many times I sold out in youth ministry because someone could play the guitar, or had big influence at school.
I’ve been studying James lately, and came across an interesting verse. James 1:27 to be exact: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I thought a lot about why looking after orphans and widows would be considered pure religion. I realized that when it comes to orphans and widows, they really have nothing to offer us in return. You have widows at the end of their life, they’ve spent their life on someone or something else, and now need people to love on them, care for them and pour into them for really nothing in return except gratitude. Orphans are on the other end of the scale. Young, unrefined, untapped. If you want any kind of return on your investment into these young lives, you’d better be patient.
So if your ministry is filled with widows and orphans you’re going to be pretty lonely, over-worked and under-financed. This isn’t the best model for church, especially these days, with our huge budgets, multiple departments and lots of programs.
Ok, so if you’re reading this, you’re probably in youth ministry. You won’t have any widows in your ministry, and probably not many orphans. But you will have some Josh’s. You’ll have some teens that aren’t superstars, aren’t leaders, aren’t outgoing. You’ll have people who are easy to forget that they’re even around, people that aren’t at the top of your list to take out for some White Rabbit. These kind are a youth ministry’s orphans. Emotional orphans, Spiritual orphans. No tangible reasons to pour into them.
The question for you is who are you pouring into? Are you only pouring into those with “High upside,” or “Big potential." Superstars that are the first to pray, loudest worshippers, biggest leaders. Maybe we need to all seek out the bad Return On Investment type kids, practice some pure religion and look after some orphans and widows in our ministries. We all have them, they’re just sometimes ignored.
I poured into Josh for about 5 years not seeing much come back from him. One day Josh invited his friend Devon to the youth ministry. Devon came and loved it. Devon was the popular kid, he was the leader, he was the atmosphere setter. He knew a ton of kids and when Devon invited a friend, they came. If Devon said it was cool, everyone else thought it was cool. Devon was the kid all youth leaders love because he created momentum, got others excited and was the youth group superstar. Because of Devon, our youth ministry spiked for about 4 years.
But if I never poured into Josh, I never would have gotten Devon. Maybe God set it up that way, and gave me a little test to see how I would care for the orphan before he gave me the superstar?
Mike Wing is the Lead Pastor of Lockport Christian Church. His amazing wife’s name is Amber and he has 3 awesome boys. Abram is 5, and Eli & Jadon are twins that are almost 2. He’s had the privilege of living in Lockport, NY for almost 10 years and is really excited to see God bringing new businesses and buildings in the city and town where he lives. He has a huge passion to see community built within his church and believes the best thing about his church are the people in it, and seeing them grow in relationship with God and each other.