Being a youth leader is terrifying.
Am I allowed to say that?
I recently attended a youth retreat where the theme was “Identity in Christ.” It feels a bit coincidental (though I suspect it may be, to use Christian-speak, “a God thing”), considering it’s a topic I’ve been thinking, writing, and hearing about in several places about lately. For the middle and high schoolers I spent time with this weekend though, “Who am I?” is an even bigger question than it is for me as a 23-almost-24-year old.
And the truth is, I don’t know what to tell them. I think “finding your identity in Christ” is a starting point, but the particulars of how that looks in everyday life are a very different story—which isn’t a very pretty, wrapped-with-a-bow answer to hand middle and high schoolers. It’s kind of what I want to tell them about all of life—“You just sort of figure it out as you go,” which isn’t a very good answer for a lot of things, much less how to find your identity in Christ.
But it’s the only answer I have right now.
Try as hard as I may, I will never get the answers “perfectly right” in conversations with the students in our youth group.
I might say dumb stuff, or say the wrong words at the wrong time, or not say the right words at the right time, and I might not have the answers that will satisfy their questions.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this, or at least shouldn’t be posting it on the Internet. Students or their parents or their friends may be reading these words, going, “Why should I trust this leader who doesn’t have her own stuff together?” Or “This is the girl who’s hanging out with my child and supposedly helping shape them in their walk with Christ?”
It’s not a perfect picture, but it is an honest one.
The questions students in my youth group are asking themselves are the same ones I am, in some way or another, asking myself. Sure, I have a few more years of life experience and some college knowledge in my head, but that only goes so far.
It’s one of the most terrifying parts about any type of formal ministry—when we truly look at ourselves, our own struggles, brokenness, and failures, it can become easy to think we have nothing to offer. Our education, our beliefs, our stories may make us comfortable addressing one topic—but in youth ministry, there is always something for which we’re unprepared. We are faced with responsibility of what we do, of doing our best to create healthy, meaningful relationships with students and ultimately point them to Christ; it’s a weighty responsibility, one that can become crushing if we let it.
So yes, being a youth leader can be kind of terrifying. Life—and youth ministry—don’t come with one-size-fits-all answer keys. In the absence of perfect answers though, we can offer what we do have—gifts of listening, acceptance, and presence.
Sometimes the simple act of showing up, of being there, is the most important one of all.
And in the end, we can rest assured that God is big enough to use what we do have.