For some reason there is this assumption by certain people that a youth minister should be a parent figure in a student’s life. Still among others there is an assumption that if I succeed at connecting with students that means I become their friend.
I would like to take a quick minute to set to rest those assumptions and offer instead that as a youth worker I have the unique joy that goes along with its own unique relationship.
I am not another parent for students
Parents are wonderful they are by far the biggest influence in a student’s life even if the student or the parent does not realize it. I am a parent of my own child and it has a great deal of responsibilities and challenges to help my child grow. I do my best to provide for him and to keep him safe from harm. My wife and I control his schedule and contribute daily to his understanding of the way the world works. It is our responsibility to set our expectations of behavior and respect for our son and that starts even before he can walk.
As a youth director I get to have the blessing of being an adult example for a student. I get to share with them some of my wisdom of how the world works and I absolutely want to protect students from harm in every way that I can. However by not being in charge of a student’s daily discipline and schedule management that opens doors of relationship that are not possible for parents. My time with students each week is limited. In fact unless there is a special event, students spend significantly more time with a teacher at school than a youth director. I cannot directly control how students allocate their time in a week, no matter how much I would like that to happen. I can only indirectly teach about priorities and living a balanced life. I cannot nor would I want to have a say in a student having a smart phone or what apps are or are not allowed throughout the week. I cannot make a student put their phone down and go to bed when I see them tweeting at 2AM.
I am not just a friend for students
Friends are great; they walk through life with us. Friends are a whole lot of fun. Friends back us up when we are trying to make points. Friends hang out at school dances. Friends hang out together. Friends discuss things that are appropriate, and things that are not. Friends look out for each other’s needs and wants. There are a lot of similarities between youth directors and Friends, but there are a few differences.
As a youth director I will not be sharing a limo with any of you on your way to prom. I will almost always stick out like a sore thumb if I find myself in the student section at a football game. As a youth director you can share your life with me and I can keep a lot of things in confidence. However, students cannot tell me of a situation where they are about to break the law, and expect me not to tell anyone. I cannot keep confidence if you are about to harm yourself or someone else, I am obligated to call 911. There are certain subjects that I can’t participate in discussion with a student. There are times when I know what is going on in your life and times when I do not. There are times when I have to make a decision for the sake of another student or the group as a whole instead of backing you up or taking your side.
The biggest complements I can get come in wonderful ways. The first is when a parent of a student approaches me randomly and says something along the lines of “I just want to let you know how much we appreciate you, since Michael started going to youth we have noticed a huge difference in his life” and the second (not by order of importance) is seeing students become amazing Christian adults where their faith is a noticeable part of the way they live their lives.
Though I am neither another parent nor another friend, I am so glad because I get to be a unique blend of the two that comes with being a Youth Minister.