I 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!