being a real person in front of teenagers

IMG_4926I can’t stand it when I see youth workers trying to be hip, trying to be cool, so students will like them. And part of why this bugs me so much is that I used to be like that! I tried so hard to be the kind of cool adult I thought students wanted.

But somewhere along the road of youth ministry, I discovered that my uniquenesses–the things about me that make me different than you–are a massive strength in my ability to connect with teenagers. And I saw this in other effective youth workers as well.

One of the best youth workers I ever worked with was a total geek. He was studying for a doctorate in theoretical chemistry, wore horribly geeky clothes and awful glasses, and was a world-class nerd. But teenagers loved him! And it wasn’t only the future geeky chemists who loved him; the students loved that he was real and authentic, and not ashamed of who he was.

I was reminded of this again last night when speaking at a youth event in Greenville, SC, and I ran into “Mr. Jerry,” and 87 year-old youth worker who’s youth pastor told me, “He’s the best volunteer I have.” Mr. Jerry cannot possibly pass as hip and cool. Maybe “cool for his age,” at best. But Mr. Jerry “gets” this–he’s brings his authentic self to teenagers and they love him.

Embrace your oddity!

5 thoughts on “being a real person in front of teenagers”

  1. I feel like I need to tell any parents this when they start volunteering. I remind them they are cool because they are present!

  2. That’s right on… I’ll be 49 next month and have been working with youth (primarily Jr. High) for 29 of those years. I am about as far as you can get from a cool/hip adult. God made it clear that He was calling me into youth ministry and I found He had gifted me in such a way that I could really connect with the youth. I have tried to leave youth work in the past only to be very soon back at it. Truth is, it’s not labor for me… Not only has God gifted me in this area, but He has given me a passion that I cannot turn my back on. Thanks for the comments Mark and for all you do…

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