Don’t act their age-
When I first ventured into youth work I thought to myself, “Man, I have to impress these kids! I have to show them that I am cool and up to date. To be sure, youth workers should always try their best to stay up to date with the latest teen trends and culture, but we should we try so hard to be cool? Some of the best advice given to me by a fellow pastor was “act older than you are.” He meant this in the context of working alongside parents, but I think it’s good to apply this same advice to working with the teenagers in our youth groups too. We have to remember that the young people we are working with are getting older. They are becoming adults; you aren’t becoming a teenager again. Ever. Sorry. In the midst of this growing process, they need mature, safe adults they can look up to more than they need an adult trying too hard to act silly.
Don’t do the work for them-
Just recently I asked a couple of teens I was taking out to lunch to bring money for the get together. That alone was a deviation from the norm of the church just paying for it. I don’t mind treating students to a meal when the budget allows for it, but asking them to pay turned into an even better opportunity to teach them some planning and budgeting skills. When one teen texted me back asking where we were going because they were trying to plan how much money to bring, I suggested the two of them get together and negotiate on a place. Apparently their peace talks fell short because I was then asked to name a few places we could go. Being more than confident in their ability to work it out, I directed them to Google Maps to find nearby restaurants. It sounds like such a little thing but going from picking for them and paying for them and transitioning to allowing them to work together to plan and budget was a skill building opportunity that was too good to pass up. Like I said above, these students are becoming adults so it’s only responsible that we think of the skills they will need when they, right before our eyes, reach that point.
Don’t run a classroom–
I absolutely shudder at the words “Sunday School” Teenagers spend every day of the week 9-10 months out of the year in classrooms at school, they don’t want to do it on the weekend too. So when I was told by students, “You run it too much like a classroom” and “You go into your teacher voice when you give a lesson,” I knew something needed to change. My personality is planning and structure. I want a list and I don’t want to deviate from it. Unfortunately for me this style screams “classroom” to teenagers. So I’ve been learning to de-structure and allow more time to just hang out. A long term goal is to be at the point where they are doing the teaching, but what’s interesting about that is we would never get there doing it the old way where I just sit elevated in front of them as the teacher. Instead, they need more time sharing stories with each other in preparation to share God’s story with each other.