I love working with youth. It’s challenging. A lot of times the kids that show up to youth group don’t even really like me. Or, they just don’t know me very well and certainly don’t want to talk to me. I can go months saying hi, or slapping high fives with a students before they ever start to feel like they can talk to me. Plus, I am a much better listener than I am a talker, so I’m not exactly going to put forth a lot of energy trying to pull information from these kids.
Once you break past that barrier though, it’s all worth it. First, they just start joking around with you. They will tell you about their school, if the play any sports, what kind of music they listen to, and all that jazz. Eventually they will start asking questions about you. That’s when I know I am building a relationship with a student. When they want to know about me, and my life, then I know they are feeling me out and trying to gauge whether or not I am someone whom they can open up to. That’s also the point when they get slightly annoying. But secretly I like it; they come running up to you and want to tell you something, or show you something on their phone, or have you listen to some song, or tell you a story about something that happened in school that day. That’s when I shine, because that’s when I show them how well I listen.
Once you have heard what they have to say, then you can start asking about those things. And then you’ve got them. Then they know you listened, and bothered to remember. That’s when they know you will care. And that’s when I start asking real questions; questions about their family, their childhood, and their real hobbies and extracurricular activities.
Case in point, as I mentioned on Monday, I was in Orlando with a group of youth for Rock the Universe last weekend. I had a group of students. Two of them are in middle school and didn’t have much interest in talking, but the other three are in high school and I have known them for over 2 years. They were all trouble makers in middle school, and then extended into high school. It was mostly just boys being boys type stuff at youth group, but it was obvious there was other stuff going on outside of church. It took me a long time to break down any kind of walls. There was months and months of saying high with no response, weak high fives, and if I tried to talk to them they would just move along. Last year and summer camp I broke through to one of them. I let him know how hard I had been trying to get to know him and he responded well. We had a really good talk last year and I thought he was going to make some big changes in his life. And he did, for a little while. But, when you are hanging out with the same people, you are going to get caught up in the same activities.
The other two have taken a bit longer. One of those kids I was able to talk to this summer at camp along with my friend M. Rockmore. The two of us sat and talked with this kids for a good long while and he hasn’t forgotten what we have said, he’s just not willing to put the effort into changing right now, but that wasn’t the point of the talk. The point was to let him know we care, that we weren’t going to judge him, and that we were available if he needed us.
So this past weekend at 3am, they called me into their room to talk about some teenage drama that happened at Island of Adventure that day. This lead to an hour-long talk about some very personal issues in their lives. It’s stuff that I never would have dreamt of dealing with when I was in high school. It’s stuff I could hardly even relate to. But I listened. They told story after story that just made my jaw drop and filled my heart for them. I want them to know how much God loves them so bad. but it doesn’t matter how many times or how many ways I tell them that. They have to experience it for themselves. Then, and only then, will they make the effort to choose a different path in life, to turn away from the temptations and the sin, and to run full speed towards God’s open arms.
The experience also reminded me how much God loves me, and how he will equip us when the time is right. I was certainly not the person that should have been sitting in that room listening to those stories. But, I was the person that God put there. And there was, or is, a specific reason why he chose me. It also reminded me how hard I need to work to be spiritually ready for situations like that. I have to make sure I relationship with God is strong; that I can hear him when I most desperately need to. And it was yet another reminder of how the things that I do, even when no one is looking, can have an effect on everything else in my life. If my heart isn’t clean, then God can’t use me to effectively help those students. And of those students can’t be helped, then who knows what the consequences could be.
I thank God that he trusted me with those students. And I praise God for continuing to teach me through youth ministry.
How does God teach you?