Everybody knows that youth leaders need to stay hip and cool. They should be completely up to date with all the latest celebrity gossip, have the hottest gadgets installed before anyone else, own at least a MacBook and an iPad and of course they have seen every movie known to man and can name the top 10 songs on iTunes from the top of their head. Right?
It may feel that way sometimes, but is it really true? Do you need to be hip and happening to be a youth leader? I think not.
Let me tell you something about myself. I’m a 36-year old, overweight woman who doesn’t give a hoot about clothes, shoes or fashion in general. I don’t do make-up, I’ve worn my hair in the exact same way for the last ten years and I strongly dislike jewelry (except for my wedding ring). The point is: I look like me. Yet I am a youth leader.
I can’t stand R&B music, I hardly listen to the radio at all for that matter. Most of the non-Christian music I listen to is from the eighties and nineties (or even before that) and I happen to be a fan of both Abba and Dolly Parton, which people have assured me on multiple occasions, are both really uncool. I love reading books (romances, biographies, leadership, WW II) and I’m a history buff, which doesn’t sound attractive to a generation who barely reads and knows nothing about the Second World War, except that ‘we’ won it. Yet I am a youth leader.
And yes, I’ll admit, I have seen almost every movie made and I love TV series (drama, not comedy…apparently I either lack a sense of humor or it’s wired differently, because I don’t like American comedies…I prefer the British ones actually). So I guess I am somewhat cool in that area, though my Dawson’s Creek addiction doesn’t quite fit the ‘cool’ label either. But I don’t watch it because I have to, I do it because I love it. I’m being me. Yet I am a youth leader.
I’m a youth leader because I love teens and students and they know it. They know I’m never going to be anywhere near hip, yet they accept me as I am because they know I love them.
My point is this: in the end, I don’t think students will care if you know about Rebecca Black (and if you read this a year from now, you’ll be thinking: Rebecca who?), team Jacob/Edward or Glee. They want to see you care for them and the only way you can do that, is to be yourself. Students will spot a ‘fake’ a mile away and they’ll distrust you, because of you’re not honest about who you are, how will they know if you’re honest about everything else?
You don’t have to like what they like to be liked by them. Sure, it helps to know what’s going on in their world, what kind of things they are confronted with and what issues they’re facing. So yes, I do try to get a general idea of what is popular by reading the gossip sites, checking iTunes and staying informed about gadgets and stuff. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it or pretend that I do. I can be me, and still connect with them.
I’ve had a wonderful couple as youth leaders who were in their seventies. They knew nothing about youth culture, yet they lead their students to Christ and they were the praying force behind the youth ministry. It doesn’t matter how hip you are, as long as you are real.
So my advice is this: try to stay aware of important developments and issues in youth culture, but don’t ever try to be cool in areas that you’re not. Just be yourself. Students won’t care, as long as you love them and truly reach out to them. They will respond to your heart, not how you look.
Do you ever feel like you’re not cool enough for youth ministry? How do you handle this? Have you ever tried to be cooler than you actually were?