This past weekend I had the joy of speaking at Believe, CIY’s event for Junior Highers. 6,000 students and their leaders gathered in Northern Kentucky for 24 hours worth of music, comedy, video, interactive learning, teaching, small group discussion and more. Because my role was fairly minimal, I had space to engage in some great conversations, observe great junior high ministry in motion and even learn some leadership lessons. Here is a sample:
* After a separate session just for the leaders, A young man pulled me aside and asked for my “top 3 tips” for working with junior highers. He was brand new and feeling overwhelmed. One of my tips was, “Chris, just let them know you LIKE them…look for little ways things that will show them you are interested in more than only being their spiritual leader.” About two hours after that conversation, I got an email from Chris that read in part: “Today at lunch I got spontaneous and bought everybody slushees, I was shocked at how many conversations that little gesture has already led to!”
* A youth pastor introduced a high school senior to me who is considering going into ministry but had all sorts of questions about education, internships, best route to take, etc. It was hilarious because as we started talking, her youth pastor sipped just out of her view and “coached me up” with non-verbal cues as during our conversation. It was obvious he wanted me to direct her in a similar way he had! Very, very funny!
* In the opening session on Friday night, there were some really tough technical difficulties…like sound going in and out during worship, videos not working, my mic popping in and out, etc. I pulled a few of the CIY guys aside afterward to share a few things going through my mind while I observed (and experienced) the situation:
– Even big events like this are really still just youth group. Students don’t care about the stuff we care about!
– It’s easy to be a strong team when things are going well. But the true strength of a team shows up in adversity!
– It may have been a tough night for Believe, but Believe at it’s worst is still the best JH event I’ve ever seen!
* There was a group there with over 700 students in attendance and groups there with 7. I met the leaders from both and was equally impressed! It takes just as much skill, passion, dedication to run a group of 7 junior highers as it does one of 700…in fact, you could make a strong argument that running a group of 7 is oftentimes tougher due to lack of funds, lack of help etc.
* I met two different youth workers…both about my age, both in ministry for 20-plus years and both having served in the same church for most of that time. It reminded me that the #YMNATION is made up of men and women faithfully serving the local church and doing so joyfully without speaking engagements, book deals, blogs and other easily pursued opportunities. These are the true heros of youth ministry!
It’s these types of experiences that make getting away from time to time so important! Do what you can to escape to an event like SYMC or another local training event; partly for the training, but mostly for the chance to be around others on a similar journey. Take your students to a larger gathering and rub shoulders with other youth workers while you are there. Leaders are learners, and the best lessons usually aren’t found in books or blogs.