Since my retirement from full time youth pastoring and trying to make a career of speaking, coaching and writing; I’ve been trying to keep my youth ministry skills fresh. One way I’ve chosen to do that is through substitute teaching at a middle school.

Let me begin by saying, teachers do not get paid enough. They are the heroes of education and are underfunded and under supported. Sounds like youth pastoring to me.

Substitute teaching doesn’t pay much. In fact, I can make in two hours, doing Grubhub, over half of what I’d make substitute teaching, but I don’t sub for the money, mostly. I substitute teach because it reminds me why I got into youth pastoring in the first place. I may not be a full time youth pastor in the local church, but I am still a fan of teenagers and a supportive sub who likes teens, is a huge asset.

If you haven’t ever been a substitute teacher, let me tell you, it is the Wild West out there. Subbing feels like you’re the new sheriff trying to tame a lawless town in 50 minute increments, but I don’t let that stop me from trying. “With such a glowing review of substitute teaching, why would I want to do that?” you might ask? Here’s why.

You’ll become more empathetic

It’s one thing to try to remember what it was like when you were in middle school and another to see what kind of school your kids go to. Sure, some of the same things occur but it’s different. Your time of suffering is over, their’s is happening right now.

I’ve seen kids being bullied and called names. I’ve seen students check out and not care. I’ve sent good kids outside so they could actually get their work done. I’ve seen fights almost break out and I’ve seen groups of kids huddle for community and belonging.

Being an observer to such things reminds me why kids need advocates and people willing to pour into them.

You’ll see your leadership tested

Youth group is a place where kids, for the most part, willingly show up; school is not. If you’re the youth pastor, you’re in charge and everyone recognizes that, for the most part. In the classroom, you have to earn it every time you show up.

Maybe you can rally your 20 kids to play a game but can you rally 20 kids to do the assigned work without breaking a blood vessel?

You’ll see so much potential

Subbing allows me to see the potential in so many kids. Kids who would never come to my youth group but I wish they had just so I had the privilege of working with them and seeing all God would do in them.

I see some kids who could be preachers, some who could be counselors, some who are artists and others who might be teachers themselves one day. Some substitutes show up, play the power trip and make the day about them. I like to show up and make it about the students. How can make my simple interactions count. What might they hear from me that they may bot even hear from their own teacher?

The kids told me a story of one substitute teacher who overheard the kids talking about death and heaven. They said the teacher said, “I know none of ya’ll are going”. Granted, kids say things, but so adults. Sad that this substitute missed an opportunity to see the best in the kids they were serving.

Sometimes I look across the class and see kids working, talking and interacting and wondering where these students will be in five years. My hope would be that they’re in a church where a youth pastor, and many others, can help them, encourage them and equip them to do great(er) things in their world.

Substitute teaching is not easy and is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re lucky you’ll hear, “You’re the best sub we’ve had”, like I did, Give it shot and open up your world. Besides, the real teachers need a break and they’ll love you, and ask you back, if you do a good job.

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