7 Ideas Your Youth Ministry Mentor Would Share With You
For years I felt people didn’t respect me as a youth minister because of my age. For this reason, I claimed 1 Timothy 4:12 as my mantra. But as a twenty year veteran of youth ministry, I know that some hurdles of youth work have nothing to do with age.
INNOVATORS AND EARLY ADOPTERS
Youth ministry attracts trend setters. I love new ideas and I’m willing to take risks for growth and development. This is a necessary strength in teen culture which is moving at an incredible pace. No one told me that my willingness to change is intimidating to those who lag behind trends. Being on the cutting-edge creates nervousness in hyper-cautious individuals. Sometimes their nervousness comes across as disrespect. I have found if I don’t have a thoughtful reason for my love of innovation, those who are slower to adapt have a difficult time respecting me as I seemingly chase after new things.
Truly following Jesus is uncomfortable. I LOVE youth ministry because tough conversations were a regular occurrence for Jesus, and they expose extremely important issues with which students need to grapple. I must talk about racism, sexuality, loving our neighbor, reaching out to the outsiders, standing up for the helpless, etc. Simply talking about these things isn’t enough; I seek to mobilize students to make a difference by living out the gospel. I have found that even if I am living-out an uncomfortable theology, that lifestyle can be a hurdle for people to trust me as a leader. It is often too edgy for those who live in the mainstream. Many parents seek only to be inspired in what they are already doing, rather than seeking to be challenged to think, live, or disciple their students to live radically in faith.
TEENS ARE SCARY
We know that adults are intimidated by teens. Did you know there is a word for it? According to Wikipedia, the term “Ephebiphobia” was coined in 1994 in an article by Kirk Astroth. He combined éphēbos, meaning “youth” or “adolescent” and phóbos, meaning “fear” or “phobia” to describe the fear of youth. Whether you believe Wikipedia or not, we can all agree that our profession is very intimidating to the average adult. By extension, my comfort with teenagers places an unease in people, thereby making it difficult to respect my calling as a youth worker.
I recognized that even in a perfect world, my calling as youth worker is intimidating to the people I serve. That intimidation appears as a lack of respect. Timothy apparently used his age as a reason for his struggle, but Paul still pushes him to “set an example for the believers” in some very practical ways. Here are a few practical strategies that I implement which have helped me gain respect within my ministry.
COMMUNICATE DELIBERATELY…WITH ADULTS
I am very comfortable when I communicate and relate to students, but I have to force myself to go out of my way to talk to adults. Communication requires that I learn how people receive information. It requires flexibility from me as a leader to enter into the world of those whom I serve, choosing to speak in a way which they will hear. Pro tip: As a parent of my own teenagers, I now realize that we need to communicate to adults WAY MORE than we think is necessary!
BE PRESENT IN STUDENTS’ LIVES
I cannot expect people to come to my event as a youth worker if I am not involved in THEIR lives. I try to find out when important events are scheduled for students. As my calendar allows, I show up and make their day! I’ve come to learn that I can’t underestimate how much it means to a parent when I show up to support their child.
CARE ABOUT PEOPLE.
College taught me to communicate the Bible, but I needed a mentor to help me understand how to care for people. Care isn’t only how I interact with a student when they are at the ministry location. Remembering birthdays, prayer requests, and life events are a big part of serving people. Simply sending a card or a thank you note can express care. Texts are cool but mailed notes still make an impression. Don’t overlook thoughtful ways of expressing care for students beyond when they show up to youth group.
Respect is built as trust is established, so I make every effort to be consistent. Set a plan and follow through with commitments. Create the expectation for communication by sticking to a regular schedule. Make a plan for admin work and accomplish it before the deadline. I find that when I overcommit in an attempt to try to please everyone, I scatter my efforts and truly strain my ability to follow through. It makes me appear to be too busy for people or too flighty to be trusted.
Timothy’s mentor instructed him to live in a way that would build respect. Paul’s words are still applicable today. And truth is, some of my own leadership hurdles have been caught by mentors who spoke directly into my ministry. If you feel like you are struggling to gain respect, don’t excuse it because of your age. There may be some practical adjustment that a mentor could recommend which could transform your reality. Don’t do ministry alone.
Find a mentor today.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.