I was sitting across the table having a one on one conversation with one of my students. He was stuck. He didn’t know what to do and he had just told me another version of so many stories I’ve heard before. I knew I needed to say something as he looked at me with awkward glances.
During our conversation I was listening, taking mental notes, but most importantly I was asking Jesus to give me the words to say to this young man. I think I was begging with Jesus for the right words to say because my initial thought was to say, “suck it up buttercup.”
As I took a deep breath about to impart words of wisdom to this young man he broke the silence by saying, “I’m sorry to bore you with this but I just don’t know what to do.” I quickly responded with the first word that came to my mind, “Wow!” I thought to myself, “did I say that out loud?” This young man had just poured his heart out to me for the past 15 minutes, asking for my advice and I started my response with ‘Wow’. What was I thinking?
Yet, what I didn’t realize was that one word would be the hinge that opened the door to our conversation. We continued our conversation for the 90 minutes and its sparked other conversations down the road and our relationship went deeper then I could have ever imagined.
This conversation reminded me of a few of things I love about youth ministry:
1) Shepherding students is messy: when I enter the lives of students I must allow them to enter my life. the pain, hurt discomfort and unsettling frustration that they have going on in their lives is when I share with them my stories of pain, hurt, discomfort and unsettling frustration. if teenagers rooms are messy, so are their lives. the one thing that I have to remind myself is that my life is also messy.
2) Process with students: life is full of things we like and don’t like. when you and your students experience one of those things, process with them, but don’t allow your emotions to dictate your response with your students. if something was challenging, process with them on how they can learn from it, wether you liked it or not. the big thing about processing with students is that it is a long journey. You cannot expect things to be wrapped up like a teaching session or telling them to read this passage or to just pray about it.
3) Resource your students: have follow-up resources on file and ready to help your students process through circumstances. if you don’t have the answers, don’t pretend you do. get resources from other youth workers or experts in specific fields. this is a really pretty way of delegating. you can say to your students, “you know I’m not really sure about that but I know someone who does. let me get you some information about that and after you’ve checked it out, let’s talk some more.” students understand it when adults tell them that they don’t know something. what they don’t understand is when adults claims they know everything. if you have a resource file, keep adding to it. if you don’t have one, start to put one together.
These are three things that I’ve found that help me as a youth worker. What would you add to this list?