When I had first started in youth ministry, I had found out that “pastors” could get a substantial discount at the local YMCA. I also found that this discount worked for the guy who worked at the Baptist Church as the youth “pastor.” So I actually went in and tried to fancy up my title to see if I could get a discount. I was a poor lowly youth minister and deserved it didn’t I?
But this made me think, what do others really see my job as? What do youth “pastors” from other denomination put within their job description? What do parents expect that I am doing when I am discussing things with their children?
After many years in youth ministry now, I have a couple quick thoughts on how what I think is most appropriate when in a mentoring/discipleship relationship with a youth:
We Are Not Counselors
I know what happens to many of us. We watch Good Will Hunting and think if we just say “It’s Not Your Fault” over and over again, that every youth will just break down crying, be freed from the pains of their lives, and go off to use their gifts and live their lives with great confidence.
You are not Sean Maguire and you have someone much bigger than you that our youth need to be exposed to and learn to trust. Most of us are not qualified to be a counselor in this sense, even if we are, it is typically not good practice and the parent or even your pastor probably does not see it falling into your expected or assigned duties.
There are times where you should give counsel, but focus on the formula.
Be Careful of Giving “The Answer”
Our youth are growing up in a culture where they can try anything (free for 30 days!). Be careful with what you promise. If your promise does not pan out exactly how they wanted or expected it to pan out, they may just move on to the next thing.
For example,I once had a conversation with someone that was having difficulties with confidence in themselves and through our conversation we got to a point where we realized much of the struggles this person has had is because of how they looked up to an older sibling. I asked them if they ever shared this with their sibling? They responded “no.” My response was to invite to them pray on it and to consider doing do. I did give a couple of options of what might happen (best and worst case scenarios), but also explained what to do next and how to handle it if those two different things happened. More importantly, I followed up with this person after I was done.
I knew what I expected to come from it and trusted it would have a great result but also set them up in case it did not go so well. Youth are a bit more fragile and often do not have the same “I trust God has a plan in all of this” mentality.
You Are A Spiritual Partner
Lastly, just understand that we are acting as spiritual partners. Because of our experiences and our wisdom we may be able to offer different counsel and ideas, but always remember that God works in unusual ways. Teach them to pray (especially with Scripture) and to continue to look to the Church for answers. You are one piece of the Church that they can come to, but set them up to trust in the Church even when you are not there.
What are your thoughts on providing counsel and wisdom to youth? Please comment below.