Making friends with the teenagers in our ministries is fairly easy, even for those youth workers who would consider themselves introverts. But building relationships of real influence is different. I think and write about the idea of influence a lot. (Like HERE. And HERE.) It’s important to me. I believe that influence is one of the key ways in which we define our overall ministry impact.
Influence is the impact—either positive or negative—we have on the lives of those teenagers we minister to.
Hopefully we influence the faith development of our students. But I also want to see us influencing their character, their worldview, their personalities, and more. (Even as I type this, I am hit once again by what an awesome responsibility this is! Isn’t it amazing that God allows us the chance to potentially make such an impact on teenagers?)
And yet, as I already mentioned, building relationships of real influence is hard.
As we consider the mark we make on the teenagers in our ministries, I know we share the same goals. I know that, like me, you want to positively impact the teenagers you have the privilege of ministering to. And you want this impact to last long after they’ve graduated high school. If that’s going to happen, we have to be intentional.
How do we build relationships of real influence?
Here are a few foundational elements present in any influential relationships.
Trust is the cornerstone of influence. We think of trust in terms of keeping someone’s confidence. But trust is also about steadfastness. Can students trust you to be who you are at all times? Can they trust you to be there for them? Can they trust you to have their best interests in mind? Without trust, influence isn’t a possibility.
Teenagers have to know that we see our relationship with them as a two-way street. We have to be open to being influenced by them as well. They need to feel valued. We will watch our lives have greater influence if we see teenagers not as inferior to us, but as people with much to offer us.
Inconsistency is the enemy of influence. If we want to influence our teenagers, we have to be there. We have to be present. We have to keep our word. We have to stay in touch. We have to be in their lives. Over and over again.
Influence is earned. Influence is in a lot of ways a form of permission to speak into another person’s life. One of the ways earn this permission is by doing life with teenagers outside our programmed events. Sporting events. Movies. Hanging out playing video games. These build the relational foundation that makes influence possible.
Time is one of the biggest factors contributing to relationships of real influence. It takes time to build relationships of influence. And yet, longevity is something that is unfortunately not always associated with youth ministry. There are plenty of good reasons why youth workers leave churches after short tenures. I’m not passing judgment on that. But I hope that when youth workers think and pray about moving on from a church, they take into consideration the impact short stays take on their influence.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, by any means. But without these elements, building relationships of influence will be challenging.
The chance we have to make a difference in the lives of teenagers is a huge blessing. And a huge privilege. Make the most of it. Be intentional about moving beyond mere friendship to relationships of influence.