Comrades and Savages

In a few days, they will find their way to the deep recesses of Western Maryland. Far from the maddening crowds, they will arrive in groups of two or three, gathering together to rekindle their passion and bolster one another’s courage for what lies ahead. For three days and nights, they will eat meat without napkins, sleep when they feel like it, and drink beverages not fit for children. They will tell stories that can’t be repeated and run shoeless from the house to the hot-tub. They will forge friendships through laughter that lands like a warm towel wrapping itself around the soul. They will talk without filters about the things which burden and confuse them. They aren’t the 3 Musketeers, the Magnificent 7, or even the 12 Disciples.

But they are comrades. They are savages. They are youth workers. They are my people.

These are your people, too. You need to find them.

This week is our annual Youth Network Getaway, a tradition we started seven years ago. We have worked hard over the years to build a network of youth workers in our area that was based on nothing more than prayer and friendship. It was hard sowing at first, but eventually it took root, and has become one of the most important groups in my life. About eight years ago, six of us traveled to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference together. Since then we’ve attended various conferences, and for the past four years, done our own retreat. The personnel has changed a little over the years, but some of the originals from that first trip remain. This year we have 11 guys and (finally) 1 girl attending, representing 9 different churches or youth ministries. We spend a few days together every spring relaxing, talking, eating, laughing, thinking, and refueling. It sounds indulgent, but it’s really a matter of survival.

You might wonder, “Why comrades and savages? (I mean, we are staying in a beautiful resort home with a hot tub). Comrades makes it sound like you are a bunch of communists, and savages makes it sound like you are uncivilized Neanderthals?” I think it’s an apt description.

Comrade: “friend”, “mate”, “colleague”, or “ally.” Derives from the Iberian Romance Language term camarada, literally meaning “chamber mate”, from Latin camera “chamber” or “room.”

Youth ministry is a niche profession that produces a unique manner of colleague. Who else is willing to spend at least 10 nights a year trying to get a room full of 14-year-olds to go to sleep? Who else chooses a job where we are tasked with managing “drama” created when the boy and girl who were “soulmates” last week are now throwing nitroglycerin on each other through social media? We are the ones standing on the curb with the last kid waiting to be picked up after the event, and the ones locking up the church after a 14-hour Sunday. We are the ones texting that stubborn junior at 10:00 Thursday night, trying to convince him that he really should skip the party this weekend and come be with Jesus on our retreat instead. We are the ones emailing his parents that same night, tactfully suggesting that his missing one rec-league soccer game on Saturday will not result in forfeiting the full-ride scholarship to Soccer University and the resulting humiliation of not being the parent of an Olympic athlete.

We youth pastors have our own language, laced with words like “dude,” “epic,” “awesome,” “student/leader ratio,” “registration deadline” and “why did you think it was a good idea to bring an open can of paint in the rental van?” (The inexperienced among us use words like “lock-in” and “all-nighter,” but that’s part of what this getaway is for—to complete their training.) Though each of us has a unique setting in our church or ministry, we have a shared culture. We’ve all been asked, “What do you do the rest of the week?”

Each of us has days we feel powerless, clueless, and cashless. Each of us has days we feel confident, discerning, and blessed beyond measure. This getaway helps with both kinds.

So if comrade contains a hint of the subversive, so be it. We are youth pastors–subverting the culture for the glory of God.

As for savages, well, here’s what Webster says,

Savage: from Latin silvaticus, derived from the noun silva, “forest,” meaning “wild” in later Latin. Altered to salvaticus, the word passed into Old French as sauvage. When it was borrowed into Middle English, it kept the meanings “wild, uncultivated, untamed.”

If you’ve ever spent a weekend in a cabin with a dozen middle-school boys who think showers will melt them, you understand.

If you’ve  ever cleaned up the youth room after the Christmas Party, you understand.

If you’ve ever tried to get 109 students back on the buses after a stop at 7-Eleven, you understand.

I’ve gone “savage” on my students a few times over the years. If you look closely, you can still see the fear in their eyes.

So if we want to get away for a few days together, to fortify ourselves for another year of youth ministry and encourage one another to keep doing this thing, we’ll do it. And if we want to call ourselves comrades and savages, so be it. It’s good for us. It’s good for you.

You should do whatever you can to find a group of comrades and savages for the youth ministry journey. Other than God himself, there’s probably nothing you need more.

Now get out of my way. The hot tub is ready.


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