Maybe it’s the fact that my kids laughed at the shorts outfits I sewed for them when they were in middle school or that they rolled their eyeballs whenever I sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as loudly as possible during Little League games, but while they were growing up, I thought that working with youth was impossible for me. Somewhere along the way I had developed an “ugbie,” an ungodly belief, that I couldn’t work with youth because I wasn’t cool.
I felt awkward trying to build rapport with young people and have always felt “musically challenged” and not pop culture savvy. I still don’t know the difference between Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears.
One day I presented my problem to a friend, Brad Davis, who at one time was the youth director for Jack Hayford’s church in Van Nuys, CA. Brad and his wife Cathy, were cool, and seemed to be able to know how to penetrate the youth barrier. I asked, “What’s the secret of working with youth...?” Brad said, “Talking to them.”
He mentioned how he went where they were after school in the afternoons, took pizza and pop, and just spent time talking to them about whatever they wanted to talk about.
It sounded too simple, but when Stuart and Lynley Allen first asked us to spend a week ministering at TACF’s School of Ministry several years ago, we decided to give it a try. Now, working with youth and young adults is just about the most enjoyable form of ministry we do.
I decided to try out Brad’s simple advice, so I picked out a young “victim” and started talking. I didn’t try to be cool or embarrass myself by making them think I knew their culture when I didn’t. I just started talking to them, laughing at myself with them and kidding around, being real.
To my utter amazement, I liked them, and for some strange reason, they seemed to like me. During the last SOM, the kids jumped up on their seats and started cheering the second day we walked into the classroom. Granting us their favor was worth far more than they could hope to pay and became the secret of being able to influence them.
I doubt whether they remember much of anything we said that week, but I got the impression that it wasn’t in what we were teaching. It was the fact that they could tell we really loved them...even enjoyed them. It was fun to hang out with them and before we knew what was happening, we were sitting over lunch with them answering their questions. They gave us the honor of speaking into their lives, and I found the unspeakably rare treasure of hungry hearts underneath the funny hairdos and piercings.
The secret of working with youth is the same as the secret of working with any age group in any kind of ministry, genuine love expressed in concern for them. It’s not really about having to like their music, nor is it necessary to compromise your values to relate to them. It’s about taking off your mask and being vulnerable to them, letting them see in your face how delightful they are to you. Youth are younger, not nearly so jaded versions of old people. They don’t mind being real with people who will be real with them.
The Apostle Paul wrote that having the mind of Christ involved, “...Taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men...” and then dying for people. (Philippians 2:5-11) Ministering like Jesus means learning to set aside your reality to enter into the world of anoth- er, even if it costs your time and the emotional expense of overcoming a fear. Genuine love is the message we are all hungry for. It’s even working on my own kids who have now almost totally forgotten the tacky shorts outfits and who know that I love them enough to talk to them like they are people, too.
Originally Published March/April 2006 Editor Melinda Fish
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