As a youth leader, I find that my own security can be little fragile. I care for my teens SO MUCH. I want the world for them, and I have poured myself out, over and over again, for their sake. My ministry is deep and personal to me. For that reason, any time a teenager makes me feel like they do not appreciate me or that they think I am uncool, it causes me to question myself. I am an adult, so I am not supposed to have insecurities (that’s how it works, right?) but I do! And those little vipers (whom I love so dearly) always seem to intuitively know how to put the pressure on the right point and make me squirm.
Over the years, I have found my path through the absolute jungle that is youth ministry, and here are a few things that I have learned:
YOU NEED TO BE (SOMEWHAT) RELEVANT.
Teenagers want to relate to you, and they want to connect with you. So don’t be afraid to check out the latest social media trend, or weird group activity (Harlem Shake, Mannequin Challenge, etc., etc.) Have fun with them, and learn about their world. Realize that what was cool for them last week may not still be relevant today. Being knowledgeable on these things will help you when teens or their parents come to you with questions about what is and isn’t ok, and that is when you will be able to speak into their lives and have real influence!
YOU DON’T NEED TO CHANGE WHO YOU ARE.
If you are corny, be corny. If you are chill, be chill! God has gifted and equipped you to speak to your teens in a way that only you can do! By being yourself you bring something unique to the table that God is going to use. At the same time, we should be encouraging every teen and leader around us to the same thing. When we all press into who WE are, the group as a whole becomes stronger and, let’s face it, a lot more fun! Don’t worry about whether or not your teens think some other adult in their life has more to offer than you. Youth ministry is not a popularity contest. Keep your eye on the real prize!
WHAT IS THE CENTER OF YOUR IDENTITY?
Is it what the teens think of you? Is it what the parents are saying about you? Is it how cool you feel? In the end, none of that will matter. I know that this is nothing profound, but let’s really think about what we are going to say to The Father when we give an account of our lives and He says us “Why didn’t you do what I asked?” We all know that He isn’t just going to accept that we were pressured into silence by fear of teenagers. At times I have felt like I was reliving the familiar pressures of high school. I have had to learn to appreciate each teen’s interpretation and opinion of me (and the world in general) without giving it so much weight that it controls me.
DON’T SWEAT THE LITTLE STUFF.
I have found that God knows the best way to connect with teens. I pray for them, I pray before I hang out with them, and then I trust that God will bridge the gap and use the time that I have. What I have found is that my teens can almost always smell my fear. A lot of times if I just act like I know what I am doing, it’s good enough for them. If they call me out on something and say “Why are you so weird?!” My response is to laugh and say “I really couldn’t tell you!” I shield myself with the Joy of The Lord and remember to have a good time, and to STOP taking myself so seriously.
No matter how the culture around us shifts and changes, or what season your ministry is in, don’t let your weak areas or underlying insecurities drive your identity as a leader. As forerunners and gap-standers for our youths, we have to constantly seek God and keep our focus in the right places. So press into what He has put in your heart, and relax about the rest. God has given you exactly what you need to bring His Word to today’s teens!
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