Just got off the phone with a life time friend and co-conspirator in youth ministry. Another mutual friend came up in the conversation who has been active and effective in youth ministry since the mid 70’s.
Conventional wisdom says you don’t do youth ministry for that long. You are supposed to grow out of it. I love bashing conventional wisdom!
Here’s my take, and it has borne out over years of observation and practice. There are three essential factors necessary for doing effective youth ministry, and none of them have anything to do with age. These factors are: 1) a solid and growing relationship with God; 2) authenticity; and 3) open and honesty memory.
- The first one seems like a no-brainer, but if I didn’t include it some of you might think I was an idiot. To reach youth for Christ, grow them as disciples, and develop them as Christian leaders, one has got to make the effort and commit the time to taking care of one’s own relationship with God.
- Many things have changed over the decades about interests, lifestyles, and distractions for youth, but this one thing has remained constant: youth have naturally well-honed fake detectors. Youth will quickly figure out the youth director or volunteer to learns the lingo and tries to dress like they do on the O.C. It is more important that you understand what it is about rap music that attracts teens than that you listen to it yourself. Be the you God wants you to be. As soon as you try to be someone else, you’ve lost the youth.
- By honesty memory I don’t mean you are good at trivia or memorization. I mean you can remember how life as a teen was for you. Too many adults approach youth with the “You think life is tough as a youth, just wait ’til you’re an adult” attitude. Sure, when you are 40 and facing marital stress, losing your job to outsourcing and dealing with teen children of your own, it is easy to imagine how smooth life would be if your greatest worry was next week’s chem test. But don’t your remember how much it hurt to get dumped when you were 15? NOW you know that wasn’t the end of the world, but at the time you sure thought it was. Stay in touch with your memories of life as a youth.
Now here I am, 16 years into pastoral ministry, and I have a youth director. I could lose touch with the kids, reasoning I have someone on staff to handle that. But I can’t bring myself to do that. Youth keep me young at heart and fresh of soul.
Can one get too old to do youth ministry? I doubt it. Ask me again in 30 years.