If you grew up in the church, you were more than likely in a youth group. You went to lock-ins, rallies and conferences. You sang those songs with the goofy hand signs, ate way too much pizza and played tons of silly games. You did all kinds of mission stuff and visited folks in nursing homes. You washed cars, made pancakes and did general grunt work to raise money to do it all again. Through it all, there was always one adult on hand, directing, pushing and cajoling you into just a little bit more. They also listened to your problems, taught you about the Christian life and tried to show you that being a Christian could be more fun than your mom and dad let on. Know who I’m talking about yet?
That’s right, the youth leader (or pastor, if that’s the way your church rolls). How do I know what this individual does? I am one. Now, I need to say I didn’t just snap one day and decide “Hey, why don’t I spend my Sunday nights with a bunch of brain-damaged teens on a sugar high?” Well, actually, I kinda did. You see, I’m a volunteer youth leader. That’s right, I said volunteer youth leader. I volunteered for the lock-ins, the rallies and the conferences; for the goofy songs, bad pizza and silly games; for the car washes, the pancake suppers and yard work. I know you’re thinking “Are you crazy???” or “What could possibly make you do that???” I know that’s not what you say out loud; but, it is what you think. Oh sure, when you’re around others, it’s always “Thanks, we really appreciate all you do with the kids”. But, when you’re alone in your car, after dropping your teen off for the loosely controlled mayhem about take place, you’re thinking “Better him (or her) than me”. Well, that and revelling in the thought of a whole night without listening to the sighs, grunts and huffs that can pass for conversation with a teen-ager (hey, I’ve raised two. I know). And, that’s okay. We all need some time like that.
So, what makes a seemingly normal adult seek out what, too many, sounds like absolute punishment? I can’t speak for other leaders, but I never really grew up. At heart, I’m still 17 years old and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’m lucky in my job, too. On some level, being a firefighter (2o+ years) requires a healthy dose of inner teen that most other careers would crush. We talk trash, play practical jokes and go like a bat out of hell on a big, red truck. Tell me that’s not a teen-age boy’s dream (yeah, I know they dream about other stuff, too. I’m trying to keep it relatively clean, here). Being a big kid is a definite plus when dealing with a church youth group, too. One of the most important qualities in a youth leader is the ability to remember what it was like to be that age. Too many adults expect teens to act like smaller versions of themselves and that just won’t cut it. Even better than remembering is still acting that way. Hey, it works for me.
Why did I get into this? I’m not really sure, but a part of it was I didn’t want to be one of those parents who just pulls in the parking lot and drops their kid off. And, the more I got to know these kids, the more I knew it was where I was supposed to be. I’ve been at it for almost 5 years and some of the first kids I worked with aren’t really kids any more. They’re growing up, finishing their education and starting their lives. I’ve been able to be a part of that and it’s pretty cool. There are new ones coming up and older ones moving on and I’m proud of every one of them. It’s like having a huge family. I’m just glad I don’t have to feed them all.