A couple of months ago, ym360 asked all of us youth workers to post the best advice we've ever received regarding youth ministry. I started working as a youth ministry about two and a half years ago and my answer still remains the same: just be yourself and love your students.
It seemed so simple when that nugget of information was given to me. But it wasn't until I stopped and thought about it, that I realized how meaningful it was. When I first got into ministry I would think back to my previous youth ministers and try to act how they used to act, or how I thought other people wanted me to act. I would try being wacky and overly-silly like a youth pastor I once had and admired . . . And yet, I was met with blank stares. I'm funny, but not in the same way he was. I definitely couldn't pull it off.
Trying to be anyone but myself I appeared fake. I know my students saw right through me. If the only negative outcome was that my students saw me as a goofball, it might not have been that bad. But I found that because my students felt I wasn't being real, they wouldn't confide in me. They held me at an arms length for a while.
I realized being authentic wasn't just good advice, it was a critical part of effective ministry. If we can't be real with our teenagers, how can we expect them to be real with us in return? When I began to see this, and minister from the gifts and personality God gave to me, that's when deeper relationships between me and my group started forming. Thinking back on all this, I identified a few advantages that open up as a result of being authentic with your students:
BEING REAL DEVELOPS TRUST
Trust is one of the greatest by-products of authenticity. Trust looks a lot of different ways. My students can trust me with their thoughts, they can trust me to be where I say I will be, and they can trust that when they ask a question and I give an answer, it's because that's the most correct answer I can give. If they ask a question I don't know the answer to, I'll ask them if it's OK if I do some research and get back to them within a few days. This not only allows them to see that it's okay to not know everything as a Christian, but to also know that I won't brush them off or lead them astray.
BEING REAL EMBRACES OUR UNIQUE IDENTITIES
If you embrace who you are, it helps teens learn to embrace who they are. We are all given different talents to make up the body of Christ. Middle School and High School is a time when they are trying to find out what their identity is. If we as their youth workers try to be anything but who God made us, then it teaches them that they should be doing the same thing. If we lead by example then they can learn to appreciate their abilities and flourish.
BEING REAL LEADS TO REAL RELATIONSHIP
By sharing our life experiences and being transparent with our youth, they can feel comfortable opening up to us as well. If we act like we are perfect then it's going to cause them to want to hide any of their mistakes for fear that they will be judged. But if we show that we are human just as much as they are, they will then feel confident in coming to us judgment free. It is at this point that a deep relationship can grow and we can have a lasting impression on our youth. (Obviously, there is a line that should be observed. Sharing too much info can actually be harmful to your ministry and to your students' identity development, as discussed in this ym360 article.)
I'm interested what you think. What are the other advantages to being ourselves when it comes to how we lead students?