I just returned from San Diego from a gathering of Youth Workers from all over the U.S. as well as some neighboring countries. I love these times together with like minded individuals. In the midst of great training, challenging teaching, and powerful worship, my highlight may be worshiping through song with a mass of individuals whose heart beats toward the same demographic as mine does.
Yet, as I'm at these gatherings, I'm also guaranteed to encounter a few (and let me emphasize that word, few), what I'd call "cringe" moments as I observe my fellow ministers...
... I cringe when I see a powerful teaching or prayer time in a large gathering be interrupted by youth workers charging toward the front of the stage in preparation for the upcoming CCM band that will be playing (something that did not happen this time thanks to the layout of programming by the organization putting on the event).
... I cringe when I see a group of youth workers riding through the convention center on their scooters and skateboards (and one pushing their baby on a stroller while doing it).
... I cringe when I talk to an exhibitor who created a fantastic fundraiser opportunity selling interchangeable silicon band watches. He brought along examples to give out 1 per youth leader. He told me youth workers were going back 2 or 3 times to get extra watches. He watched as some youth workers grabbed multiple watches at once. The exhibitor said, "You did hear me say one watch, right?" The youth worker responded, "Yes," and proceeded to walk off with the handful of watches.
... I cringe when I have moments wondering if I'm at a Youth Workers Convention or a Youth Convention.
When I have these cringe moments, these are the things (and the battle) that goes on in my mind...
Really, Youth worker? Is that what a childlike faith is supposed to look like? Do our students really need another "friend" to hang out and play C.O.D. with? Do you honestly believe trying to be fun and cool is going to meet the need for belonging and hope that is so void in many students' lives? Do you think the best way to be an advocate to teens in our churches and community is through acting like a teen?
-But wait, Derry. The answer isn't found in a bunch of people acting and looking more "professional" either. Relevance is valuable, you know. Are you just getting old and grumpy? Maybe it's not that they need to "grow up." Maybe it's time for you to "stay young?"-
No, these select few are perpetuating the caricature of the youth pastor that is broadly brushed by the greater community, especially the church community. A bunch of men and women that graduated from the youth group but wanted to find a way to stay involved, so they became youth pastors.
-Or maybe, Derry, these are individuals that have said, "Who cares what others think of my approach. I love Jesus, and I love students. I'll embrace that calling and not worry if the 'adults' in the church get it." -
And maybe that's the case, but it negates the fact that these youth workers need to come alongside parents. They need to be examples of living counter-culturally. They need to be LEADERS, not FRIENDS. That's the issue. That's where my cringe is in the right place. Grow up for the sake of the call on your life. Stay young for the sake of the call.
Youth Workers.... LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE CALLING YOU'VE RECEIVED. Grow up and see your role. Stay young in they ways you can best fulfill that role.
But seriously, stop riding scooters and rushing the stage.