Letting Other People Lead Your Youth Is Hard

Accompanying teenagers’ discernment of the good and the right is hard work. It takes the courage to lead them into uncomfortable spaces–physically, intellectually, spiritually–and the wisdom to put to them the discomfiting theological question. Being out front in this work means anticipating students’ challenges. It means attending to group dynamics. It means wrestling ambivalence and imprecision, often to a draw.

Youth formation is very difficult work.

None of us do this work alone. In addition to parents and volunteers, a healthy youth ministry connects students to a whole constellation of leaders: retreat speakers and small group leaders, mission partners, camp staff, neighboring pastors and religious leaders. Allowing those leaders to do their work with our students is uniquely challenging and uniquely critical.

Is my pastoral relationship with the 6th-12th graders in my congregation dependent on me as the perpetual speaker and leader? If so, that’s an easy way out. There is a harder body of work for youth ministry, and that is the cultivation of relationships with other adults who get to lead our students without our interference.

This. Is. Tough.

My students are at a youth conference this week, and almost every element of their experience is led by somebody who is not me. Worship, recreation, small group discussion: committed and talented people who love youth are in charge of it all. My job is simply to be with my students in it. It’s great for them. It’s challenging for me, not because I don’t like or don’t agree with the content, but rather because I depend too much on being in charge of everything.

Thanks be to God for a church full of people who are called to lead youth, who have led the students in my care this summer, from Chicago to Detroit to Cuba to North Carolina.

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