Youth leading when you’re no longer young
Hi I’m Pete. I’ve been married for 9 years. I’m in my thirties. I have three kids of my own. I can’t even remember my high school days. And yes, I’m a youth leader.
Yesterday I bumped into an old church friend. He was actually one of my youth leaders in the glorious YG days of CCC. That means, of course, that he’s even older than I am. Since he and his wife started going to their current church, he’s been single-handedly building up the youth ministry there – training youth leaders from scratch, ministering to a bunch of active high school kids. He had just come back from KYCK with his youth group on the weekend.
Like me, he’s an atypical youth leader: over 25 (in fact, over 35), married, has kids.
It’s funny, I wouldn’t have chosen to go back into youth ministry. I’ve been ministering to high school teenagers since at least 1993 and if I had sufficient resources being a pastor of a new church plant, I wouldn’t have chosen to go and start this youth group myself. But you know, now that I have, I’ve come to really value the role of ‘older’ people (particularly older men) staying in youth ministry (or, like me, going back to doing youth ministry).
Here are a couple of reasons why:
1. It’s good modelling. This is the obvious point, but modelling seems to be vital in Biblical ministry (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9). Youth of today (particularly the boys) need good, godly, and older men as their models. And I’m not talking about men who are only a few years older than they are, but men who can model what it means to be husbands and fathers. We are witnessing a generation of fatherless youth, and so this becomes increasingly important.
2. You are a better youth leader (and I’m not just talking about being more experienced having done it for more years). As a father I’ve begun to relate to the youth (and young guys) differently. I now start seeing them through the eyes of a father. In other words, I used to just want them to grow up. Now I want them to grow up and themselves become godly husbands and fathers. I have a much longer view of their development than before, and I’ve seen enough changes in high schoolers after years of doing youth ministry to know that even the rattiest year 8-9 boys will one day grow up.
3. It’s good for us! Believe it or not, working with youth when you’re older is actually great for your Christian walk. The youth remind you that you are never too old to be ‘fired up’ for Jesus. Working with youth puts you on the cutting edge of evangelism: there are non-Christians all the time who you are in contact with (or at least potentially in contact with). When you see a high schooler invite their whole class to RICE, or decide that they would start up their own ISCF group, or go against the grain and honour Jesus in the midst of peer pressure… boy, that’s a challenge to your own faith. So many people I went through youth group with who are now also in their 30s have virtually no fire and passion anymore. Doing youth group reminds you that the lukewarm-Christianity of your 30s and 40s isn’t the norm; the passion and fire of your youth ought to be!