Being ‘liked’ has taken on a whole new dimension since Facebook introduced the concept of ‘liking’ something (or someone for that matter). But for youth leaders the issue of wanting to be liked has always been a tough one.

I think we’ve all been at the point where we want students to like us, where we want to feel accepted by them. We rationalize it, saying we can’t really be effective in youth ministry if the students don’t like us. If we want students to trust us, to confide in us, we need to be liked.

Or do we?

It’s perfectly okay to want students to like you. I’d be worried if you couldn’t care less. But the extent to which it influences your decisions, to which it dictates what you do, that is something to think about. After all, you’re not their buddy, you’re not their BFF; you’re their youth leader. And being a youth leader isn’t about being liked. It’s about leading our students to Jesus, time and again.

We don’t need our students to like us; we need them to follow us to Jesus. That won’t happen if we base our opinions and decisions on whether it will make us popular or liked. We need to make our choices based on what Christ would do, about what’s best for our students and the youth ministry.

There will be times when you’ll need to make decisions that won’t win you popularity points. There will be instances where you’ll need to do the right thing, instead of the likeable thing.

I remember when I took over the organization from our yearly weekend retreat. We went with a group of about 60 students (age 16-22) and leaders distributed over 25 cars or so. Most of the drivers were youth who only had their driver’s license for a short time and it was about a three-hour drive.

So I instituted a very strict ‘evening clock’ because I wanted to make sure they had enough sleep to drive safely, meaning everyone had to be in bed by 01.00 am on the last day. They were furious with me, arguing that there had never been an evening clock and nothing had ever happened. I stood my ground and the youth obeyed, but they really didn’t like me at that moment (and that’s an understatement!).

Did I care? Of course I did! It was hard for me that they were being so angry with me. But I knew it was the right thing to do, even if it meant being unpopular.

This is just one example, but there have been plenty of times where leading had to trump being liked. You’ll recognize these situations when you feel yourself conflicted over a decision and one of the deciding factors is that students will react a certain way.

It’s normal to be concerned about students getting upset, or to factor in their positive feelings about a decision. Yes, students need to like us. But it’s more important that they can follow us in the right direction—towards Jesus.

One consolation I’ve discovered: it gets easier over time though. The longer I am in youth ministry and the older I get, the easier it is for me to have the right perspective on this. It seems there are benefits to getting old after all.

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