I’m a wannabe barista. I love coffee, and love competent latte art. (For those who are into such things, my favorite drink is a straight two-shot whole-milk traditional cappuccino with no flavor. This is the drink espresso was created by God to be in.) Our church has an espresso bar, which is through the office wall about 35 feet from my desk. So I have learned enough about being a barista to know that I am a terrible barista, even after several years of trying. The latte art a barista creates is only part of the skill required to be a great barista, but the quality of the latte art reveals a lot to experienced baristas. For example, here’s a perfectly poured rosetta:

And here’s my best attempt this week:

Here’s a competition heart shape, with lots of concentric hearts created by the pour:

And here’s the best one I’ve done (I’m actually pretty proud of this one. Please don’t make fun of me!):

I could go on, but I’ll just show you one more: my attempt at a rosetta that was so bad it actually more resembled the dark tower of Barad Dur from Lord of the Rings. So I took a toothpick and tried to actually make it that.

My latte art, several years into trying, is only a poor mockery of what the pros can do. I just don’t have the practice (or the artistic eye) to do what they do. I only make 5-10 espresso drinks per week.

Why are we talking about latte art?

In this season of ministry, all our students can choose to watch the online student ministry gatherings of most any megachurch they choose to watch every week. And potentially even worse, I can watch those same gatherings.

I can do a quick Instagram search for “latte art” and quickly be discouraged. When I compare my latte art to what the pros produce, mine is pretty lousy most of the time. Every so often, I pull off a lucky one that looks almost passable, but my average is far lower.

I can do a quick YouTube search for “youth ministry” and quickly be discouraged. I can’t build a new stage set every couple of weeks for youth group. I don’t have a staff working under me in student ministry. I don’t have the chops or the prep time to hit a home run with my teaching every week. Some weeks, I feel like what I do is passable, but my average isn’t stellar.

Comparison is a dangerous trap any time, but it’s so much easier to fall into right now.

Many of us are serving in multiple job descriptions (either officially or unofficially) in our churches, and youth ministry is just one of several weekly task loads. Many of us are part-time or volunteer, and the time we have to devote to youth ministry is painfully limited.

You know what I have in common with the best professional baristas? I start by using some of the best coffee beans in the world. They’re expertly blended and roasted by Messenger Coffee in Kansas City (if you’re ever in town, you’ve got to go to their café and sit on the rooftop deck!). And while my grinding, dosing, tamping, steaming, etc make a difference in the final product; you can’t make truly great cappuccinos if you start with the wrong beans. When I do a halfway decent job with my part of the operation, I get a really delicious drink in my favorite coffee mug in the mornings when I arrive in the office. Even if it doesn’t look as pretty as some.

You know what I have in common with the best youth pastors in the world? I start by using the inspired Word of God, the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, and a redeemed heart submitted to His purposes and calling on me. I make it my goal to point to Jesus in every interaction with my students. I use the gifting, training, and experience He has guided me into over my lifetime. And while my preparation, creativity, and skill make a difference in the final result; you can’t have true Kingdom-building outcomes if you start with the wrong foundational things. When I do my best to be faithful and obedient to the Holy Spirit, I can be confident that Jesus will give my students a thirst for Living Water that can only be quenched by Him. Even if our meetings don’t look as pretty as some.

Also, the best baristas are often quite willing to share their secrets. They freely share on YouTube and write articles about how to improve your technique. There’s no reason to just try to figure it all out on your own.

The best youth pastors are also sharing their secrets! Check out youthgroup.downloadyouthministry.com for an absolute treasure trove of free stuff you can use to improve your game right now! And there’s a 60-day free trial of the DYM Gold membership right now, including free use of the wonderful software package called Sidekick! There are free teaching sessions, small group discussions, and anything else you need. There’s no reason to just try to figure it all out on your own. (I know this last paragraph seems like just an awkward segue to a commercial, but look again! There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff available for zero dollars and zero cents!)

Maybe you need to be reminded today that your labor is not in vain. If you’re starting with the right foundations (the Word of God, the presence and power of His Spirit, a redeemed heart submitted to His purposes and calling, a determination to love students and point them to Jesus), hear this: your labor is NOT in vain. It’s all strange and weird, and I get that it feels like you’re not doing enough or you’re not being effective or you’re failing in your calling. But if you’re faithful to obediently serve where God has called you to serve, you are making a difference that will last forever. Thanks for pointing students to Jesus!

Jim Purtle is married to an incandescently radiant math teacher named Cindy. They have four small children. Those children occasionally make Jim and Cindy very proud, and sometimes make them pray fervently for the children’s future sanctification. Jim has been in full-time youth ministry at the same church in rural Missouri since 2002, and feels like he might be starting to figure out how to do it. He’s made a ton of mistakes, and is willing to tell anyone who will listen how not to do youth ministry! He’s really glad he doesn’t have Jesus’ job – but he’s also really glad Jesus called him to be part of His Kingdom.

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