Lessons in youth ministry from waving at the bus

I’d seen the headline a few times before I finally read the story: Teen's dad spends school year waving at bus, embarrassing son. When I finally did read it, I was utterly charmed. A father waved at his high school sophomore son’s bus every day as it passed by the house—dressed in costume. 

As quixotic as this project was, I firmly believe it was, as the father said, "’a way of letting him know that we really care about him, but do something a little different.’ He described it as ‘a father's way’ of saying I love you.”

As I read it, I thought it held a lot of lessons about youth ministry -- or any ministry. Even if you don’t dress up in costume or set out to embarrass your kids, I think this father did a number of things that are applicable to us as we work with youth.

1) Do the small things This father waved. He waved at the bus every day. That is what he did. What are the small things we can do to show the youth we work with that we’re paying attention?

2) It may require regular consistent effort over the long haul I think a lot of us get caught up in trying to produce the one or two big events that everyone will remember and that will make a big impact. But doing the small things consistently, regularly, and well will perhaps be more effective. It’s certainly what leads to building relationships.

3) It’s not about being cool This father did not try to be cool for his teen. If so he would never have dressed up as the Little Mermaid. In fact, he embraced the very thing that is so hard for many parents of teens: knowing that your child thinks you are embarrassing. He went right in there and made the embarrassment part of his call.

4) Rewards come in many forms I loved this comment from the son: "I'm not going to reward him for this; his reward is seeing my embarrassment." From the article, it sounds like this is the reward the father was looking for. What kind of reward do we want? If we have more than one thing in mind (such as, say, “seeing youth grow in faith” and “being liked”), are these rewards competing with one another? Is the way we are going about our work likely to get the reward we are seeking?

5) We may never see the results of our efforts Then again, we may be seeking a reward we may never see. The father said, “"I hope this lives with him for the rest of his life. He can use it against his kids and tell them, 'If you think you are embarrassed by me, you should have seen your grandfather.'" This is one of the blessings and curses of working with youth: we can have a huge impact, but we may never see what it actually does. Are you working with the long-range impact in mind?

But I keep going back to the first thing I wrote, that this was a way of saying I love you. This was a labor of love. In this case, dressing up in silly costumes and waving at the bus was a father’s way; but what is your way of telling the people to whom you minister that you love them?

Updated January 2013: He's still waving!

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