Jars of Clay

The Hughes are YMI missionaries to Ukraine where Sam serves as our Eurasia Area Director.

I say this phrase often in classes, “Fruit in youth ministry is rarely seen quickly”.

Last month I was waiting on Jarrett at the end of youth group, and a muscular young man approached me in a mask. He asked if I remembered him. He pulled down his mask and I intently looked at him, searching my memory, but his beard still masked his identity.
When he told me his name, Tyler, I suddenly recollected a scrawny middle schooler from 12 years ago … with facial hair even then.

Tyler was in the middle school ministry during our time at Ninth and O Baptist Church, in Louisville, Kentucky when Melissa and I were studying at Southern Seminary. Incredibly, he is now serving in the youth group my son has been attending (a crazy thought!) and is preparing to go into overseas missions with his wife! While I have not been the only influence in his life, it is encouraging to see fruit of one’s labor long ago.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

In any ministry, one can easily lose heart and become discouraged at the long process of discipleship, especially ministering to young people. They can have a deep spiritual conversation with you, leaving a smile on your face, and less than an hour later post something ungodly on Instagram.

I love how 2 Corinthians 4 encourages us to not lose heart in ministry (vs. 1 & 16). In context, we are a “jar of clay,” in which God put the most precious treasure, the Gospel. The treasure in us gives us worth, but that fragility shows that the power of change belongs to God (vs.6). Our role is to faithfully display that Gospel, knowing the Enemy seeks to blind us (vs.4) and we must suffer (vs.8-12). But that suffering is a “light momentary affliction”.

Though my nose surgery four years ago for a deviated septum which I sustained playing frisbee at youth camp did not feel “light”, in truth from the eyes of eternity it was, because there are unseen things happening that will have eternal consequences (vs. 17-18).

So do not lose heart! Spiritual growth is a long process and many times youth workers simply plant seeds, pray, and trust the Lord that they will grow and produce fruit.

I was challenged as I spoke with another youth pastor, Roger Palmer, who prays every day for every young person at his church, and they know it! Sleepless lock-ins, health issues, long drives, and being misunderstood are sacrifices youth workers make in order to bring young people to the Word so they can see “the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ” (vs. 4). Many young people might not show fruit for years, but God is working in the unseen realm.

Tyler was one of several young people when we served at 9th and O Baptist Church later showing fruit.

One girl, Deanna, from Melissa’s middle school small group is now the wife of a local pastor. She is pouring her life into middle schoolers, just like Melissa and other youth leaders poured into her.

In Tyler’s middle school group was another young man, now a nuclear physicist, who defends the faith in a hostile academic world. Another is a youth pastor and yet another is a psychiatrist working with troubled children and teens. Another is an insurance salesman serving in his local church. I do not know if everyone who we have ministered to are following the Lord, but we left our time in Louisville encouraged that youth ministry matters and is effective when a youth worker makes Christ the center, both personally and in ministry.

God is faithful to work in the lives of those young people, though we do not see it now, but by His grace we may see it in the future.