an open letter from a father of teenagers, part 2 (requests)

youth worker, yesterday, i wrote you to say thanks. i meant every word. and that letter was not just a set up, building you up so i could rip into you. in fact, i’d only planned on writing that letter. but after i finished it (and was — seriously, i’m not exaggerating — wiping tears from the corners of my eyes), i thought, “i could probably share a few requests also.”

so, in the context of my deep, deep well of appreciation and valuing of who you are and what you do, i’d like to also share a handful of requests:

stop trying to entertain my kids. they don’t want it, and you can’t really pull it off.

well, i’ll add a little caveat to that, a small qualification: my middle school son still likes to be entertained a bit. he likes the fun stuff, still. it’s not what keeps him there, or what he values the most, but it still has its place with 13 year-olds. but my daughter could give a rip if you have entertaining programs or neatoriffic trips. she wants to hang out with people who know her and care about her. she wants to experience something, and worship can provide that. she wants conversation. she wants to be a part of something that impacts the world. please, shut off the frickin’ lasers, scrap the goofy games that worked ok in 1982.

don’t be a poser, please.

i know my kids, and i know that they really do not care if you are into, or even aware of, whatever music d’jour is in their ears. they do not care about your wicked guitar chops (real or of the ‘guitar hero’ variety). your backward baseball cap only works if it’s genuinely you, and not something you do because you think it’s hip. look, i want my kids to connect with you at a meaningful level. i want — need — for you to have a voice into their lives. and you’re not going to have that if you’re a wannabe. please be yourself, for my kids, for me. this isn’t a ‘youth ministry tactic’ — this is a dad who needs this for his kids.

would you please take care of yourself?

look, i’m asking you this for a couple reasons. first, i want you to be around for a long time. i mean, i like you and all, and i want the best for you. but from a purely selfish place, i want you around for the duration of my kids’ adolescent tenure. i don’t want you to burn out or fall into some stupid moral sin. you know that it would be better if you never even came to our church or met my kids if anything like that happens, right? you wouldn’t just undo the good you’ve done, you’d create an additional pile o’ crap that we’d all have to trek through with our teenagers. and, you know what? i can’t walk through your pile of crap without getting your crap on me. i do not want your crap on me, or on my kids. so… yeah… take care of yourself, please.

also, i want you — need you — to take care of yourself because i know you can’t have an impact on my kids if you’re dry and shallow and stressed and your priorities are all screwed up. you can only minister effectively because you have christ in you. that’s the real issue. i’ve seen sh*tty youth workers have a huge, glorious, beautiful impact on the lives of teenagers because of christ in them, because it’s really not about them. and i’ve been stunningly gifted, talented, hard working youth pastors have the impact of a wet fart — lotsa noise and commotion, quite attention-getting, but no lasting impact — because it was all about their gifts and talents and hard work, and not about christ in them. so… yeah… take care of yourself, please. my kids need christ in you, not superman or wonder woman.

finally: please partner with me.

i know i occasionally seem like your adversary. i know — just keepin’ it real here — that some other parents really seem like your adversary. we’re not. i’m not. what i am is afraid, at times; afraid i’m going to squander the most amazing gift i’ve ever been given (my kids). i’m afraid, at times, that i’m a lousy parent. i’m afraid, at times, that my kids are going to royally screw up, and impact all of our lives forever. don’t mistake my occasional fear for antagonism. don’t misread my insecurity as a lack of trust in you. it’s more of a lack of trust in myself.

not that i don’t think you do some stupid or weird or needlessly risky things from time to time. but, somehow, i also think that’s part of your charm.

but i need you to come alongside me. let’s stop this stupid isolation, this absurd idea that ‘youth group world’ and ‘family world’ are mutually exclusive and have nothing to do with each other. look, i know i’m sending our entire family to your youth group when my kid shows up; because my kid shows up with all the family systems and baggage and good and bad parenting and everything else that she or he has received in our home. so, whether you like it or not, you’re getting all of us. and my kids are bringing you home also. so we might as well work together, huh? please, even if i don’t give you the impression that i want you to partner with me, i do. you’re just gonna have to trust me on that one.

and, now, i return you to my words of thanks:

thank you.

thank you.

thank you.

and may god richly bless you, as you have blessed me.

9 thoughts on “an open letter from a father of teenagers, part 2 (requests)”

  1. These letters are some of the most beautiful and encouraging posts you’ve written, and I’ve been seriously blessed to read them. Needed it this week.

  2. I’ve enjoyed both letters and both are needed in the youth ministry world! We need encouragement but we also need a dose of reality. Thank you for both!

  3. Great point on youth workers taking care of themselves. Sometimes we show up because we think we have to instead of taking care of ourselves so that we want to.

  4. Thanks for writing these Marko. Your thoughts and words are money. I’ve been in youth ministry off and on for 30 years and I’m now a father of teenager. You have articulated so well what I want to say. The “would you please take care of yourself” and “please partner with me” paragraphs are gold!

  5. Wow Marko, I wish I could’ve read this like three years ago. I am an ex-youth director who resigned for various reasons but mostly because I felt totally spent. A lot of energy output and not so much coming back.

    I’m now back in school for Social Work and Mental Health. It isn’t much different from Youth Ministry really but at least my relationship with Jesus is about my profession of faith and not just my profession.

    By the way, I was really glad when I found you on G+, you were always a voice I looked to.

  6. I think the partnering thing is so crucial…I have also been on both “sides” of the fence, and it would be so great to not have a fence. Just as we as parents need to be so much more trusting and supportive of you, please remember (esp if you don’t have kids yourself) that being a parent is SO crazy hard sometimes and we love them and try to do the right thing, but are not always great at it. We feel like we are a failure sometimes. Please don’t blame all our kid’s behavior on us, because we already do that ourselves! Of course, we like to take credit when things are going smoothly! Probably good to get rid of the blaming and just come together as we walk along the journey of growth and stuggles. Sometimes we are all good at that and sometimes not so much. And I second Marko….thanks for everything you do…you have changed my kid’s lives!

  7. Marko, I generally do not respond or comment to post, and I read many in a day. But I had to on this one. I am 48 and have been in full time youth ministry for the past 28 yrs, most of that time in parachurch ministry. I have 4 kids 2 boys and 2 girls, my oldest is happily married, one a Jr in college, one a senior in HS, and last but not least my 13 yr old daughter. They have grown up in the youth ministry world, and all have been involved in youth ministries at their church ( from CA, OR, WA, and TN ) so they have seen it all. Your post yesterday was right on, something I should have done or said many times. And todays post was awesome ( ya I’m 48, I can say awesome ) God has blessed our family with some great youth guys and gals over the years, but we have seen some pretty bad ones as well. Especially the Poser, my kids can read right through that, any teenager can.
    It might sound strange to say from someone who has devoted his life to full-time youth ministry, but some of the best youth workers that my kids have ever had, were not paid at all, just giving of their time and their heart.
    They had no number pressures from the elders, they were not required to go on x amount of trips, most did not even know how to work a projector or have an itunes account. They just were real people who loved my kids and showed them what loving Christ looked like. I will forever be grateful to them. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for paid youth workers, but maybe we need to take a close look at these folks and see what makes them so great! And it is not how they wear their hat!

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