Saturday, May 15, 2010

The best youth work resource...You!

I think that there is a general feeling among Christian youth workers that they spend a vast majority of their time doing things that they would rather not be doing.  There are administrative tasks, planning for programs and of course…politics.  You remember back to your interview and the dreams you had for a dynamic youth group.  Of course the dreams have gotten lost in the nightmare of paperwork, phone calls from disapproving members of the congregation and apathetic youth.  Now you can’t dream about changing the world with your young people, in fact, you may have even given up hope of changing your group. 

What would happen though if you spent less time doing your job and more time investing in your passions?  What you would have is a mess.  A wonderful, complex, mysterious, confusing mess.  Allow me to explain.  I used to run some pretty unique and exciting programs.  The kind of group that seemed to double in size every week.  I had worked hard at getting a mobile drop-in center for youth housed in an antique double-decker bus.  We were going into neighborhoods where there was little to do except get drunk behind the elementary school and break into people’s houses.  We were making a difference in the lives of the kids on the streets.  We had an abundance of money coming in and I had to turn away volunteers because I had too many.  Then in a series of terrible events it all fell apart and I was left with nothing.  I didn’t even have an office to go and sulk in. 

I felt terrible because I had nothing to offer the youth anymore.  I would see them around the neighborhood or at their school, but I didn’t know what to say to them.  I didn’t have anything thing for them to get involved with and nothing to invite them to.  I didn’t have video games systems.  I didn’t have a youth group with a cool band.  I didn’t have a bible study.  I had nothings.  I remember distinctly tagging along with some kids one day during their school lunch break. I just happened to be in the coffee shop that they stormed into and I invited myself to sit in on their conversation.  They were talking about their drunken adventures from the weekend.  I felt awkward and out of place.  I didn’t want to preach at them and turn them off of church forever.  So I started asking them questions and truly listening to their answers.  “What do you think about the laws on the drinking age?”  I asked.  They went on to explain to me in great detail about how the drinking age should actually be raised from the local 19 to 21.  They said that the adolescent brain can be permanently damaged from overuse of alcohol.  Then I really felt like I had nothing to offer.  Not even education of adolescent brain development.  College seemed useless.

Then they asked me a question about me.  I casually shared my life story with them.  All in all I though it was pretty boring and standard, but when I finished they sat there with their jaws on the floor and told me it was the most amazing story they had ever heard.  They even sent other kids in the school to me to ask me to share my story with them.  I knew my story was nothing special.  I knew that God was using my life to somehow reach theirs.  I started to spend 90% of my time with youth in coffee shops talking over all manner of things with kids.  They trusted me because I didn’t try to invite them to anything – I didn’t try to change them, I simply was there with them.  That’s when things got messy.  Kids started to pour out their lives to me.  Complex things came out: prostitution, sexual exploitation, gang violence, sexual orientation, family crisis, suicide, and self injury.  Things growing up in the church I felt pretty sheltered from.  They were hurting and I didn’t have answers to heal them.  So I didn’t try to give them answers  I just started to tell them stories I knew from the bible.  I just told them the stories and didn’t explain them.  Weird thing was it worked.  Their lives started changing.  Unchurched kids started asking to have prayer meetings and they would pray for hours.  We would try to stop it and they would keep going.  If I wasn’t there to witness it I probably wouldn’t believe it.  It is messy, but it is real; and it is worth it. So the best resource God needs is not powerpoint games, teaching curriculum, a tricked out mobile drop-in center.  The best resource God has is you. Get out of your office and spend 35 of your 40 hour work weeks out being a youth worker.  It is what you were meant to be.
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