From the looks on the teen’s faces, I was bombing and bombing big time. My wife and I had just attended a youth ministry training conference with this youth ministry guru – Tom Zanzig and he told us everything that a 9th grade student was going through. I was only repeating what I had heard the guru say.
Thankfully, one teen changed how I have approached ministry that day. After hearing me give this long oration about how much I knew about what it was like to be a 9th grader – a lone hand reaches toward the sky to stop me. It was Mike Bankovitch and he asked me if I could stop talking. Mike went on to say that I had just met them, how could I tell them who they were without getting to know them? All my wife could do was nod her agreement with what Mike said that day.
I learned something that I wish I had known before entering into this – Find out who the teens are. Let them talk and find out about what is important to them. By the end of the year most of what I spouted out that first day turned out to be true – it just needed to be said by the teens and not some overzealous core member. So here are a few things I wish I knew when I started:
- Spend more time listening to teens than you do talking.
- We can’t fix every teen. You will reach some and not be able to reach others.
- It’s not our role to be a buddy to the teens -If you’re hanging out with teenagers all the time and see them as peers and best friends, something is wrong with you, and you shouldn’t be in youth ministry! Sure, you’ll befriend kids. But you’re their leader, and that defines you as a different kind of friend. Yes, you’ll hang out and talk about things other than Jesus. But your relationships with students, as close as they may seem at times, need to maintain the foundational understanding that your reason for hanging is not to be a pal; it’s to have a spiritual impact on their lives.
- Spend more time building relationships than you do planning.
- Don’t think you know it all or more than anyone else. Ministry to teens is always changing, a challenge, surprising and evolving all the time.
Thank you for all you are doing to lead teens closer to Christ!