After five plus years of being in the youth worker game, I have come to the conclusion that the key to youth ministry is the desire to learn. When you break it down, learning is what it is all about:
- You have to be willing to learn about the teenage brain and how they think. To know who GaGa, Gandolf, Gryffindor, and Garret Gilbert are because they matter to your students.
- You have to learn how to listen and when to talk, how to not act shocked when you hear of the details of some kid’s lives, and how to convey emotion over Facebook chat.
- You have to learn how to be (or at least seem) interested in stories that really don’t make sense.
- You have to learn how to let kids beat you in basketball, teach you things you already know, and the Heimlich in case of a game of Chubby Bunny gone bad.
- You have to know all the “Q” words that don’t require a “u” in Scrabble, and who has texting on their phones and who doesn’t.
- You have to know what it means when Master Chief is in his cryo-tube and when the ACOG scope for the FAMAS gets unlocked in your third prestige.
- You have to be able to cheer for 6 different high school mascots and know where 6 different auditoriums are located within a school.
- You have to know who is gone every other weekend because they’re at their dad’s house, and who you haven’t seen in church for a couple of weeks.
- You have to learn the names of all your students, and never ever call them by their sister’s name, even though they are identical twins. You have to learn how to remember the joys amid the deep disappointments, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, and always expect the unexpected.
- You have to learn how to balance church life and “real life”. You have to learn how to leave your work at work. You have to know when the play performance is, the time of the choir concert, and who plays on JV and who made varsity. You also have to know who got cut, and be sure to let him know that it’ll be OK.
- You have to know who is struggling and who is excelling; who needs help, and who needs space to sort things out on their own. You have to learn to not compare one kid to another, but rather appreciate each for who they are. You have to learn to not get down about who is not there, but rejoice for those who are.
- You have to know how to Tweet, update, upload, post, poke, promote, and share, sometimes all at the same time. You have to know to avoid what’s so fifteen minutes ago and be aware of what’s cool today. You have to know that you are NOT 16 years old anymore and dress, speak, and style your hair accordingly.
- You have to know how to say no, and when you have to say yes even though you really don’t want to. You have to know how to clean up messes (both literally and figuratively), and how to say sorry. You have to learn how to appreciate those who may never appreciate you. You have to learn how to sound smart even though you have no idea what you’re saying. You have to learn how to keep your promises and not make one unless you can.
- You have to be willing to learn from other youth workers and realize you’re not on an island. You have to learn how to meet students where they’re at and not expect immediate change. You have to learn how to be the adult even if you feel like one of the kids. You have to learn that confusion doesn’t mean indifference and busyness doesn’t mean progress. You have to learn how to schedule the unscheduled time, and how to be flexible. You have to learn how to delegate, lest your passion fizzles and dies.
- You have to learn how to read between the lines and how to say the same thing five different ways. You have to learn how to fill your own cup. You have to know where the Bible says an ass talked to Baalam, and what anthropomorphism means. You have to know how to answer the phone at 3am and how to react to the sobbing brokenhearted. You have to learn that you don’t know everything and you learn twice as much from your students than they do from you. You have to know who your Savior is so that you might be able to share Him when a kid needs it.
- You have to know what grace is and be willing to show it even when it’s difficult.
But the thing about all these things, and I could go on for another couple of pages, but the thing about these things is we youth people love it! We get to rock out to pop music and listen to kids talk about their days. We get to play Call of Duty and get our butts kicked by kids 1/3 our age. We get to cheer for every sport we never played and paint our faces just to make our one student feel loved. We get to help kids figure stuff out and be with them when they tell their parents about the trouble they got into.
We get to answer the calls at 3am and spend way too much time on Facebook. We get to have inside jokes with teenagers and buy silly gag gifts just because it’ll make them smile. We get to learn from other people who do the same thing we do, and we get to share ideas. We get to grow deeper in our faith so that we might be able to help kids who struggle in theirs. We get to learn about Jesus and see Him work in the lives of the next generation. None of those things are a “have to”, they are all “get to”‘s and that is what makes youth ministry so great!
Learning is what it is all about- and the willingness to learn is what keeps us going day after day. Today I can learn something about someone that I never knew before.
And maybe, just maybe I can tell them something about their Lord and Savior they never knew before. That’s what this is all about.
I am blessed.
Kory Henkel is the Director of Youth Ministries at Bloomington Living Hope Lutheran Church in MN. Check out his blog for more right over here.