I have been honored to be involved in youth ministry for over fifteen years. I have been a small group leader, a speaker, as well as a chaplain at local schools. As I have gotten older, I have learned that I learn new things daily with regards to students and youth ministry.
The first thing I learned is the fact that we are not parents to the students we serve. We are to partner with parents. Of course, this doesn’t mean we report everything to them. When our students share things in confidence we need to be discerning whether or not we should share with the parents. Of course, if the student is hurting themselves or others, this is something the parent should know. Since I have become a parent to teenagers, I have learned how important it is to have these partnerships, but, again, we are not the parents.
Where I have struggled, and I see so many other adult leaders struggle is realizing that we are also not supposed to be peers or friends with our students. We want so badly to be liked by the students we serve, that we become a kid. I am not saying don’t have fun, what I am saying is that we are not their buddy. There will be times you need to challenge them, you may even really need to get “in their stuff” at times. This isn’t something you can do on the day you meet the student, it takes time and relationship building, and most important, the student should trust you before you challenge them. I know I have had some students that were probably not too happy with me at times because of a challenge or maybe because I have noticed something about them and brought it to their attention. It’s OK to have a student mad at you sometimes. If they are never mad at you, maybe you aren’t doing your job.
We do need to be one of their biggest cheerleaders, one of their biggest supporters, one of their biggest confidants.
I wonder how much we under estimate a student’s ability to grow spiritually. I wonder how many times we put a ceiling or an extremely low bar on student discipleship because – well, they are just kids! We should never EVER under estimate a student. They desire something much deeper than just game night or hanging out at the mall or a movie. They want to be treated like adults (which they are not and shouldn’t be), however, we can challenge them to a deeper level of commitment with their Lord and savior, Jesus.
The most important thing we should do as adult leaders is to be “in training” ourselves. Yes, we should build relationships. Yes, we should attend the ball games, concerts, and graduation parties. Of course, we have to be there on youth group nights, showing how much we care about them.
We need to grow ourselves. Are you praying for your students? Are you praying for your own family? Are you praying for your pastors? What about your devotional time? Are you in the Scriptures on a daily basis? Call it legalism if you like, but there is power in prayer and Scripture.
“You cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot lead where you do not go.” – Unknown author.
We have been entrusted with young, sensitive lives. Many of them are eager to trust and eager to please, and eager to be loved. Get into at least one accountability relationship with someone outside the youth ministry. Let your accountability partner hold you accountable! Be honest, nothing can kill a ministry more quickly than foul play. Meet the parents or guardians and let them get to know you, have an open-door policy with them.
Be honest with yourself with regards to your discipleship and accountability. I think of Romans 12:3 where Paul instructs to “think of yourself with sober judgement.” This is too important to not be honest.
The call to youth ministry, whether it be pastor, youth worker, or adult leader is a high calling. We have been asked to help build the Kingdom by disciplining teenagers, we should take this call seriously. There is no ministry more frustrating, more rewarding, more exasperating, more favorable – There is no greater calling!
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