Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't underestimate the value of old folk in youth ministry.

The common thought that youth leaders or youth pastors must be youthful is causing Christian churches to overlook or shuffle aside a large group of qualified volunteers for youth ministry. While it is true that it takes a youthful body to keep up with kids on outdoor trips and some physical activities is is not true that older folk have nothing at all to contribute to the discipleship of young Christian kids.

A lot of pastors argue that kids will be drawn too or have closer relationships to younger adults because they have more in common is also not true. Many kids are suffering the loss of a parent through divorce. These kids yearn for a caring relationship with an adult viewed as a surrogate parent or grandparent.

It is true that a young aged youth leader brings some abilities to the group that older folk don't but the younger leaders lack the wisdom and experience that comes with age and a life already lived in faithfulness to God.

A smart youth leader with gather a group of adults of many ages, genders, and occupations to bring the strengths, spiritual gifts, and life experience he (or she) lacks.

This was never more evident than during a teaching time using the book, "Every Man's Battle". The younger leader was great at identifying with the teens about the struggle for sexual purity. In reality he was very much in the midst of the battle against his hormones and fleshly desires as the middle schoolers were beginning to be. What he lacked was the experience of winning (and sometime losing) the battle and the wisdom that had come from a life long struggle to be pure. I supplied that. We had a good combination of experience from both ends of the age spectrum that the boys benefited from.

I have also observed that the closeness in age of a twenty-something leader to the teen girls in the group presents a lot of problems in itself. The girls are naturally attracted to the "hot" youth leader. This may be the main reason they attend the group. While the pitfalls of sexual attraction are obvious other issues also interfere with the goal of a youth group in discipling kids. These kids will never enter into the same depth of conversation with a hot guy as they will with a trusted parent or grandparent figure. I have actually overheard kids wondering aloud at how much they had opened up in conversations with me.

Older volunteers also add a high degree of accountability to the younger leader. We all understand the fine line of propriety a youth worker walks as they relate closely to kids on deep issues of the heart. It's not that the older person is there to always be looking over the shoulder of the younger but that they both provide a witness for the other if any impropriety is suggested and each provides the other a confidant in discussing situations and strategies in dealing with the youth.

Every youth pastor or volunteer should be encouraged to build a team of people to assist in the ministry. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. They don't know where to begin and assume the adults want nothing to do with the kids. The adults wrongly assume that they are not wanted in the youth group setting. To bridge this gap prayer is required. Next a simple bulletin announcement seeking volunteers to simply pray for the kids. If anyone shows interest the youth pastor should encourage them to simply attend the Sunday School or youth group to see if their spirit is drawn to the kids. This generally flushes out most of the curious do-gooders but the one or two individuals that do attend will quickly form relationships with the kids and be drawn into the ministry quite naturally. Parents can always be tapped for the chores like bringing snacks and driving but one or two "ministers" is all you need to greatly enhance your effectiveness in your discipleship goals.

Even if your group is small and the adults outnumber the kids the group will grow as the kids see the value of the relationships you're offering. This is the way to go.

Here is a link to another great blog on the value of adults in youth ministry.