Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Success in youth work is linked to offering free food

Defining success in Youth Work: Part 1

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life.  At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how. 

The Situation:
When I started leading a youth ministry in my late teens it really wasn’t much of a process other than looking for an opportunity to be used.  Success was measured in how much fun I was having.  This bubble burst in just a few short weeks when one of the Jr. High kids I was teaching pulled me aside to tell me, “I don’t like you.”  This was my first glimpse into the reality of working with young people.  What I may think is successful is little more than a chasing after the wind.  I recognized myself in the kid that was looking for amusement in their abrupt attitude.  I had been very similar in Jr. High myself.  And yet it sucked my passion right out as this harsh evaluation erased all the positive reinforcement that I had received in terms of my creative teaching and passionate calling by my mentors. 

Why was I doing this?
I was doing this because I had recently gone through some life altering situations.  I had faced death and I had made a promise to God to give everything I was back to him.  After all I didn’t deserve to be alive anyway. 

How would I do it?
I stopped trying to replicate my youth group experience and realized that I needed to gain the trust of these young people.  So one Sunday morning I helped the entire Jr. High group play hooky from church and we went to McDonalds. 

This experience showed me that success in youth work was directly related with how much free food I was willing to give.  There was also the fact that no matter how cool I thought my bible lessons were, without being able to relate with me as a real person these kids didn’t want to listen.  Also I had to recognize that just because these kids were a part of my group, it didn’t mean that they wanted to be.  Rather than force them into the mold of my ideals, I allowed them to be themselves.  Skipping church led to deeper conversations about what was happening in their life.  Unfortunately the parents of these kids didn’t appreciate their kids missing out on the church service all the time.  We had to transition back to the same bible study model.
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