A year ago this last week, I embarked in my first paid role in ministry as an intern of a megachurch’s youth ministry. I was the intern for the high school girls in a ministry of about 250 students. My job was basically to develop a “core” of 18 ladies into leaders for the student ministry. I was to do this by leading service projects, hosting pool parties, serving alongside them on a missions trip, being a camp leader, creating and getting HS leaders for a VBS-type thing for the middle school AND hanging out with them twice a week. I also ended up filling in for a middle school Sunday School teacher. I was BUSY. I made some mistakes. I thought I had it all figured out before I went into that role, but my pride in my education got in the way. Here is a list of things I wish I knew before I went into this role.
1. Not everyone wants to be my best friend.
First of all, not all of that 18 girls I was supposed to lead were even there that summer. And maybe I took that too personally. There are girls who are used to being the leaders, and do not want another leader “over them”, getting close to “their” friends and “their” followers. High school girls WILL talk about you behind your back as a leader. And I acted surprised! When I remember calling my youth pastor’s wife a highlighter because of the lime green shirt she was wearing, talking about him behind his back. And I was the student leader (Christian Karma?). Nobody in high school wants to hang out with their youth leader 72 times a week…it’s just not going to end up well. Spending so much time with ANYBODY will end in disaster, especially when girls are involved. I to this day get frustrated when spending mass amounts of time with people, because their flaws jump out at you. Also, I was the same distance from many of my core as I am from my best friend, who is 4 1/2 years older than me. Being a leader does not mean being a best friend.
2. Teenagers still think concretely.
I should have listened more in my “Adolescent Development” class. Teenagers are really struggling with trying to grasp onto ideas that are more abstract. There are all these false dichotomies going on because of the incapability to reason with ideas that aren’t black and white. Also, they aren’t going to understand all of my jokes. I almost made this a whole separate point, but I won’t. I was frustrated at one point when I said something that was okay in my “college” group of friends to say, but they didn’t understand it. They thought what I said was terrible, but to me it was funny and okay. That’s because in college you learn to think abstractly, and especially at my age are almost too abstract. Also, don’t discuss NT Wright with teens out of the blue. These kinds of abstract things, while important to discuss, need to be prepared for! (I find myself giggling and rolling my eyes) When I say “but”, I better really mean that word because that means a disclaimer. But I snapped out of that.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
Just because a person has a nice house doesn’t mean they can afford camp. Strong Christians don’t always go out with who they should or have the relationships they should. Beautiful girls have just as hard of a time with their identity as those who aren’t so “beautiful.”
4. My past can hold up my future.
Let’s be honest, I have a heavy past. But I was too caught up on it. I made it a block in relating with these upper middle class folks in the suburbs. Can I relate to getting a car, especially a nice one for my 16th birthday? Nope. I can’t think of a friend who did. Do I understand what it’s like to have seemingly unlimited money to spend on…whatever? Nope. But that doesn’t mean I can’t relate at all. There are girls who don’t have Christian parents. There are students who have seen drugs ruin their families and friends. There are girls who go work in the inner-city and have seen what I’ve seen, even if haven’t resided there. They still get it. They share the MOST IMPORTANT thing with me–Christ. Sometimes they made it a big deal that I couldn’t relate, but probably only because I made it a big deal first. I was glorifying it too much.
5. I am not into recreational youth ministry.
My internship was almost completely recreational. My spiritual gift is teaching and administering. I barely got to use those gifts. I took a lot from that internship and applied it in terms of recreation, don’t get me wrong. But when I look back and get frustrated at myself, I remind myself that I wasn’t really using my gifts. My current ministry has rec, but it is focused on study. That’s more my thang.
6. I might be more into women’s ministry.
This is something I have been pondering. I pledged to follow the Lord’s call for me, wherever that would be. I still think that is with teenagers. But I have a bigger heart for women’s ministry and specifically teenagers. They need somebody investing in them. I saw that in some of the girls I interacted with. It broke my heart when leaving them that they would no longer have someone investing in them. Then I saw the leaders I trained rise up and take that place. That’s another thing I learned: I am an equipper. This could mean that somewhere along the road, I may equip the next generation of youth ministers. I would tell them that they do not have it figured out, and never will. Yay!
You know, I would like to change the title. I needed to learn all of this. I use it now. I do not share a lot of the same political views with my current youth, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate. When they can’t see my way, I shouldn’t get frustrated, but remember where they are in their life. I can’t make assumptions based off of their house, their car, what they eat, what they look like…and I can’t make my past a road block. Sometimes it is, like when they talk about agricultural things (I knew one person who hunted in high school, there’s probably only that many down here who DOESN’T hunt–me. ha!). But we share something greater. I’m still learning, everyday. And I need to be. I have so much to learn from those younger than me.
I know some of the girls from that group read my blog. I have a few things to say: One, I love you all. You girls taught me a lot about life–how to have fun, how to serve Christ, how to be relational. I wasn’t perfect, and neither were you. Thank “The Fall” for that. But I still think of you often, pray for you, and stalk you on Facebook (that last one is probably the most obvious). Thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow as a leader! And please be gentle on your new intern. She’s going to be going through a lot the next few months :)