Something I really struggle with in ministry is learning how vulnerable I can be with my students. As in, how much of my sin do I show them?
I remember a child coming to me last year asking me about Jesus. I asked her, about 7 or 8 years old, if she did bad things, AKA “sinned.” She agreed. I said, “You’re right! You sin, your mom sins, I sin, even your leaders Pam and John sin!” (the leaders of the community center, names changed because frankly I can’t remember them). She responded with, “Whoaaaaaaaa…” She didn’t realize that everyone, including people she looked up to, did bad things just like her.
I think our students have forgotten that we, their leaders, sin. I personally royally screw up daily. But how much do I tell my students? How vulnerable do I get with them?
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are two things I am learning:
1. You need to be vulnerable.
A few months ago, we were talking one night about anger; how we can’t come before God with a pure heart if we are still angry with a brother or sister. I was, dare I say “preaching” for a moment, then it hit me: I had two people in my life that I needed to make amends with. And I shared this with them. This really helped me teach. The next week, I told them the progress I had made, and through my life lesson was able to teach them. I tell them that I struggle with pride, but that’s a “safe” sin. What if it’s not a “safe” sin to talk about it the church? Read on.
2. They don’t need to know every detail.
I partied in high school. I consumed alcohol and did not honor my pledge of purity. How much do I tell them? What do I say? Obviously, I don’t tell them what kinds of drinks I thought were tasty, which ones had the worst hangovers, etc. But what about when it comes to purity? What do they need to know? Saying, “Well, I didn’t have sex, but I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing.” Then their minds start racing, and their respect for their youth leader, does it vanish? What do I say? Sex isn’t one of those things that seems “safe” to talk about in church, especially with a group of teenagers. But it is so necessary.
3. We are held to a higher standard.
This is the tough part. In my last post, I talked about how teenagers thing very concretely; so speeding may be considered an awful sin to one, saying “crap” may be considered a sin, etc. Basically, if an action is questionable, we shouldn’t do it. This makes me think about the age-old question: Do we listen to “secular” music in the church van? What if they realize I know the lyrics? Do I lose respect? I’m posing too many questions to answer in this post. This is also where we remind ourselves that we are LEADERS and not FRIENDS (well, friendly leaders). They don’t need to see how I know every word to Ke$ha in order to like me. In fact, I should probably not brag about that right now. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Some famous dude said that…;)
4. They need to understand that we are not to be put on a pedestal.
Students need to understand that even their leaders fall into sin. Period. I am not perfect. They need to remember that the only model we have of what it looks like to lead a perfect life is Jesus Christ himself. Does this justify us leaders to do whatever the heck we want? Definitely not. Even the holiest people sin; this shouldn’t discourage us but encourage us to follow the one example we got. And going back to point 3, we DO need to try to be that example to them, yet we ain’t gonna get it right.
Here is one of my favorite songs that reminds me not to put myself on a pedestal:
Also, I wanted to post a song that I came out when I was in high school. I LOVED it; it was on my favorite show, One Tree Hill. It’s called “Halo.” enjoy! :)
As you can see, I by no means have this figured out. I need help in this. I’m really struggling. I need to be respected as a leader, yet I need to relate. Do I use my own experiences? What do I say about things? What about the sin I struggle with now?
Youth pastors, how much do you share with your youth?