I have a youthworker friend who has had grandchildren of former youth in his youth group. I have another youthworker friend whose grandson is a youthworker as well. I had lunch the other day with one of my favorite youth who is in her 40s now. Another youthworker friend of mine was telling me about being at a meeting and when the Bishop ask for all of the younger folk to come up front he got up from his chair and then suddenly remembered as his knee popped and his back ached that he wasn’t really one of the younger folks in the room anymore.
Do I have a point?
Longevity in youth work can mean a lot of things. Some good. Some not so good. I was just at a youth event where I ate pizza 3 times in 2 days but I did have fruit danish for breakfast so I ate somewhat healthy. That probably counts as not so good after 3 decades of the typical youth ministry menu as my diet plan.
My former youth was telling me that she just couldn’t really remember any Sunday school lessons or sermons. She did remember some gross games. Most importantly she remembered that she learned that she was loved unconditionally. And she learned that she was to love others as God loved her. Well maybe that was in a lesson sometime, she just didn’t really remember which one. She did remember all of the adult volunteers who touched her life encouraging her to live out the gifts and graces God had given her.
A young adult friend of mine teaches younger dancers. I have a special place in my heart for dance teachers, as my daughter who graduates high school this year is a dancer. As I watched my friend post pictures of her girls at a dance competition it reminded me of how God must look at us. Even when we don’t get the steps perfectly right, God is so proud of us. Maybe God posts pictures of us as we learn to see what God sees and love what God loves and we dance into action to join God in God’s mission to save the world.
Don’t get me wrong. The Sunday school lesson can be very important. The UMYF program does need to be well planned out. But really, the point is for us to dance to the music the Holy Spirit provides. And that can only be done when the students trust the teacher because there is a sufficient relationship built.
It is hard to take the time to build relationships. It is even harder when we have tough conversations with students who are not joining in the dance, so to speak. The ones who are choosing other activities that takes away balance and poise and dedication.
I think longevity in youth work means that we can still dance and that we still have the love and commitment to teach others to dance as well. In case you didn’t catch the metaphor, we have to build relationships where young people see us living an authentic Christian life on purpose. They have to see us fail and they have to see us try and try again. They have to see that we truly follow someone worth giving our lives for. That is much more important than any lesson or program.
So, my prayer for you is that you have longevity in youth work. It matters. It really really really matters! In other words, I hope you dance your life away. And while you are doing that, thank one of your dance teachers.
Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison