This is probably the hardest article for me to write as it pokes at a pain that runs deeper than anything I have encountered as a youth leader. The problem: My children in youth group are the kids that are the hardest to lead and those that I fear I am failing. As I type these words out there is a flood of shame and embarrassment that nips at my heels and makes me contemplate quitting. I also can hear a few seasoned vets out there sighing heavily because you empathize.
How am I going to address this problem? Can I sell my kids? Nope. Can I drop them off at another church’s youth group? They don’t want to go anywhere else. Can I discipline them by not letting them come every time? That doesn’t work because then it’s counterintuitive to what church community looks like. It sends a message that behavior determines your acceptability. Ignoring their disrespect or immediately dealing with their disruptive behavior has not changed the outcome at all. I have even stopped and had everyone start praying for me and/or them. I have encountered the pained look of other leaders sharing in my pain. Sympathy stares sometimes are worse because it feels like an agreement of FAILURE. Nothing has worked yet. Luckily, time in youth group ends and my oldest 2 are graduated and my daughter is graduating this year and will be away at college next year. YES. I will finally not be outnumbered because I will only have one left. Sometimes I think if I had been an awesome youth pastor my sons would be in seminary or leading the youth group. I can assure you that is not what they are doing right now. Do your kids determine your value is a title of another blog, not todays.
Quitting…Sometimes feels like the only option. Quitting sometimes is like that forbidden cupcake with chocolate, caramel, and whip cream and little chocolate shavings on top. It’s the one you hide and enjoy when all of the kids are in bed and asleep. The idea of quitting is like a seductive whisper, the thought that buzzes around and is very much like a secret hidden dessert. “All I have to do is Quit”. In those moments I understand temptation…
Failure is a term we all hear for various reasons and at various times. Failing your children in the area that you give your life away for, ministry, feels like a double-edged sword. A whammy for sure. Failure is what we speak to ourselves when no one is around and it’s a voice we empower when we don’t fight it.
Sometimes I think my kids act up to expose my truest motives as a youth pastor. Will I love and accept them right where they are spiritually and behaviorally? At the crux of the gospel do I believe all are welcome and all belong. We even have a sign in our youth room that says “You Belong”. Are their conditions on that sign? My kids not only challenge me, but they are there to see all the moments of my life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. They don’t sugarcoat things and apparently, they don’t worry about looking good so that others won’t judge me or them. They are watching me live out my faith in ALL moments.
The authenticity I have modeled may have contributed to them not trying to pretend at church. At times I have cried out and begged them to just pretend. Their response is that’s not a vineyard value. Hmm… so, they have listened sometimes? Come as you are… If that is for them, it’s for me as well. I get to come just as I am. I may not be perfect, I may cry at youth group (in the bathroom last week), but I am not going to QUIT this week.
The scripture doesn’t guarantee results when we become leaders. It’s strictly an invitation for us to lay our lives down for our King, Lord, and Savior. Lay it ALL down like the United Pursuit song says. Lay down your ideas of successful ministry and just be faithful to those God gives you. Faithful to your family (you can’t quit them) and faithful with your resources. Love God extravagantly and model that by loving those that may not produce the results that we think determine successful ministry. Because as you forge ahead to being a resilient leader that doesn’t quit you are being shaped into the very picture of humility. And friends, humility comes sometimes with a little pain. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8