Stuff Youth Ministers Like #10: Caffeine

A few years ago I stumbled out of bed at 5:30 AM during a leadership conference for teenagers. I had risen at such a ridiculous hour because I knew that the teens I had brought with me would all soundly be sleeping until 7:30 AM, which is when the female chaperone and I would wake them up with an air horn.

I pulled on a retreat t-shirt, gym shorts, and a baseball hat and wiped away the eye boogers that had developed during my three hours of sleep on my “luxury” dorm room mattress. I walked out of the dorm and stumbled towards the coffee shop. Even though I was still half-asleep, my primal instincts took over and I navigated the campus, along the way running into the female chaperone, who had the same idea.

When we arrived at the campus coffee shop, which the previous year had opened at 5:30 AM, we were greeted with a sign that had been drawn in sharpie, “Closed for event.”

We stood looking at the sign – at first in stunned silence, then making grunting cave-man noises as we pointed at the sign and hopped up and down. True story. Eventually, I grunted and pointed to the church van while she used her iPhone to find the nearest McDonalds (Cue Starsky and Hutch car scene), and within five minutes we were both holding large iced coffees and were wide awake, ready to face the day.

Lest you think this story is crazy – I will propose this hypothesis. I’m fully convinced that a successful youth event requires three things – the Truth of the Church, openness to the Holy Spirit, and copious amounts of caffeinated beverages. I’m fairly certain that at one point, the amount of Red Bull I consumed on retreat could have fueled a rocket to the moon. I didn’t just have wings; I had the hyper-drive from the Millennium Falcon.

Doubt my successful youth ministry to caffeine ratio hypothesis? Next time you are at an event with youth ministers (or music ministers, but that’s a whole different beast), look around at how many people are slurping on something caffeinated. And no, tea doesn’t count as something caffeinated. You probably have some young, Franciscan graduates slamming Red Bulls like its finals week, and perhaps some more dignified veterans gingerly sipping an iced lattÈ – pinky out.

Add to that – every youth ministry event I’ve ever been to has had a giant coffee table set up. The one time there wasn’t one? People complained so loudly it caused the facilitator to go out and buy everyone coffee. My hypothesis was proven again this past week at the Catholic Youth Ministry Convention, where before every 7 am session the line for coffee was 50 people deep, and a collective shout of joy erupted when we passed out “$2.00 off coffee” coupons.

Caffeine is so woven into the culture of youth ministry it’s practically the foundation; in fact, I bet if we relied on prayer even half as much as we rely on coffee . . . well, I bet it would give us and the teens we serve more than wings.

Question: What’s your favorite food / beverage to bring with you when leading a teen retreat?

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