Different Is Good
I believe I’m like most people in that I am drawn to individuals who are like me.
All the way back to kindergarten, I wanted to play house with Holly, my energetic and talkative classmate. In Junior High, my bestie was a hyper, co-cheerleader named Naomi. Those who weren’t like me kind of annoyed me in my youth, if I’m honest.
As I started in ministry as a 19-year-old college student, I found the same kind of natural draw toward students and leaders. The students and volunteers who were just like me were easy to connect to—they wanted to be in MY car, showered me with verbal affirmation, and felt like they were special in my world. The quiet, intelligent, analytical ones were a mystery to me. My guess is, they felt unknown and unnoticed for the time they stuck in out in our youth ministry.
I don’t remember how the revelation came to me—more than likely through a thoughtful mentor in my life or a vision during an overly caffeinated all-nighter—but it changed everything. If I have different students in my ministry—with different backgrounds, experiences, temperaments, expectations and giftings—then I need a volunteer staff that reflects or matches those same differences.
The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 12, talks about the beauty of “different” in the body of Christ:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
No matter a believer’s confidence level, God has placed each one of us in the body the way we are supposed to be!
How cool would it be if our ministry teams reflected the difference and intentionality of Paul’s charge?
Not only is it biblical, it’s best for everyone involved. Because, here’s the truth—I scare some kids. When I come at a new, cautious, 8th grade guy with my big, permed hair and loud voice, he probably wants to run. Not to the foot of the cross, but out the door! Thank the Lord Chad is on my team and I can tap out and he can saunter in with his kind, easy, quiet way. In moments, they’ll be shooting hoops in the Gym, together. Not talking. The kid walks away, feeling known and accepted. Chad leaves for the night feeling like he played a tangible role beyond crowd control.
Depending on your church culture, you might need to do some work to create a team that reflects the body of Christ. You may need to spend some time and energy reconstructing the “profile of the youth worker” that is assumed in your setting. I’ve been in churches where it is assumed (and could probably be confirmed with a quick look into the leader meeting) that in order to be a volunteer with the youth, one needs to be in college, clothed by Lulu, athletic and well versed on the details of Taylor Swift’s social life.
It’s awesome to have one of those on your team—especially because they usually smell great!—but what about the Star Wars geek? Do you someone of a different ethnic background than you? A leader who came to know the Lord later in life? A single mom? A grandpa? A parent of teenagers?
A couple questions to ask yourself, requiring honest answers:
- Are the majority of your leaders like you or different from you?
- What would it take for your ministry to be attractive to a broad range of people?
- Does your youth ministry have a limited youth worker profile?
- What kind of student doesn’t have a “match” on your volunteer team?
Yes, creating a team that reflects the body of Christ and mirrors the students in your youth room will take some effort on your part…but the pay-off will blow you (and your students & leaders) away!
HEATHER FLIES has been the junior high pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie for 24 years. She frequently speaks at junior high schools on abstinence, self-esteem, and other current issues. She also encourages women, trains youth workers, and helps parents understand how to love their teenagers well. Heather is the author of I WANT TO TALK TO MY TEEN ABOUT GIRL STUFF and THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID/THAT’S WHAT HE SAID. Heather and her husband, Chad, live in Minnesota.
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.