God makes addicts of adults who belong in youth ministry. Let me explain. Even when my wife or I have WANTED to quit serving as part of our church’s Youth Ministry Team, we just haven’t been able to entirely pull the plug. Every year, a handful of kids inject themselves into our reality, and allow us the privilege of having a relationship with them. Crisis to a teenager is just as major to them as crisis is to nations, families or governments.
Middle school kids are squirrelly. That is a fact of life, and a truth that youth workers must know before they enter the room. Kids hardly ever settle down enough to listen to the words that we as teachers and mentors speak to them. That makes God’s call on our lives to have RELATIONSHIPS with middle schoolers all the more important. They will only remember us because of the friendships we had with them, and probably won’t remember any of the biblical lessons we tried to teach them. Sometimes my most valuable ministry time is throwing pillows at all the boys in the ‘couch-pillow fight’, or listening to the girls explain the latest fight between different friends.
High school kids aren’t squirrelly anymore, but they are mostly bored with adults trying to tell them stuff. Why listen to one more adult on Wednesday night or Sunday morning? They listen to teachers five days a week, and their parents nag at them all the time. Again, our CRITICAL MISSION with high school kids is to establish relationships with them. The reason we need the relationship is because when that student needs a shoulder, or needs compassion, or needs biblical counsel, we have earned the right to fill that role. Establishing ‘cred’ is as easy as stopping to talk with them over donuts on Sunday, or asking various students about classes, hair cuts, new shoes, or a new cell phone. I get lots of interest when I ask a group about texting; as in, “how many texts do you send a month?”.
We can’t offer advice, counsel, or compassion unless we’ve inserted ourselves into their lives prior to their point of crisis. Teenagers don’t listen to people they don’t trust. They don’t believe people who don’t believe in them. They also don’t trust people who walk into the room and announce that they have to listen now, “because an adult is speaking”. Oh, sure, they will listen, but only like they listen to the principal at the mandatory school convocation in the gym. We need to demonstrate OUR belief in them (by hanging out with them, for instance) before a student will trust us.
God’s plan for youth ministry is simple. We model and we teach two things: love God, and love people. Start with what Jesus said was the greatest commandment, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength”, and continue with, “and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself”. That is a story for another day.