Looking back, I thought they were the golden years of youth ministry for me….I was close in age with the students and was often confused for being a teenager by parents. I thought this is it…it will never get better. I related to their world and I didn’t have to try hard to be cool…I was cool (notice the past tense.) Now as I prepare to celebrate my 40th birthday…I can’t help but feel that I am a better youth worker than I have ever been.
At least, mostly better. When we got back from summer camp this year, it took me a week or more to recover when before all I needed was one day to sleep in and “veg-out.” (Of course, I didn’t have kids myself so "sleeping in" was really sleeping all day.)
Or when I use to talk with students about their favorite movies or music…I would find that we liked very similar things. I could relate to their world. Now when we talk about movies or music a student is quick to say “Oh yeah, my mom likes them too.” Nice.
Besides it taking longer to recover from camp and being compared to their mom...I feel like I am in my sweet spot. I love being with students and with our leaders. I feel like I am just getting started. Instead of trying to be cool, I can focus all my energy on caring. I also find that rejection hurts less now the older I get...Don't get me wrong...it still hurts but I have learned to not take rejection so personally. It's not so bad being older.
This got me thinking about the trends of youth ministry and how long youth pastors stay at a church. Or the new trend of youth workers planting churches. Neither of those things is bad but I want to encourage my youth worker friends...that longevity is a gift and your best years may be ahead of you.
With that in mind:
If you are young, don’t give up….stick it out...you will find it only gets easier and more rewarding the longer you stay.
If you are in the middle, we’ve made it…keep going strong...it's just getting good.
If you are “older” than the average, thank you! Thank you for not seeing youth ministry as a stepping stone and for believing in teenagers. I look up to you. You are my heroes. And if you start to doubt yourself…know that teenagers need your love more now than ever due to the breakdown of the family unit. Don't believe the lie that you are too old for youth ministry.
Truthfully, I look forward to the day that a student says “oh yeah, my grandma likes them too.”
What about you? Where do you find yourself? Any "older" youth workers have some wisdom for the young-uns?