Making Relational Investments Count
When it comes to relationships with students, youth workers have many roles to balance: mentor, friend, pastor, counselor, coach, shepherd, advocate, and leader. At times, it seems like a juggling act trying to keep these roles straight. But the roles that seem the hardest to balance are the roles of mentor and friend, especially in instances when you find yourself having to correct or discipline a student.
When it comes to correcting a student, the tension between mentor and friend is one that youth workers must strive to keep in balance.
When these situations arise, if we lean too much toward the friend role, it's easy to lose some of the impact our influence could make. If we lean too much toward the disciplinary mentor, we risk straining the friendship. It's a tough spot that most of us have probably been in.
So, how do we maintain this integral balance?
My first role in any form of ministry leadership was at a day camp, when I was still a teenager myself. I was an assistant counselor for a group of 20-30 third and fourth grade boys. This was a big task for a15-year-old kid! I remember carrying the burden of keeping things going, but not wanting to be labeled the "mean" counselor!
One day in our staff meeting, the camp director shared an idea with me that all these years later, I have never forgotten. It still brings clarity to the topic of balancing roles. "Kids are like bank accounts," our camp director began. You could feel the tension in the room. Had the camp director really compared children with souls to balance sheets and account transactions? He continued. "You must make a consistent deposit in a child's life so that when it comes time to make a withdrawal, there is still some equity left in the bank." This really was a banking illustration, which besides being very unexpected, holds some transforming truth.
We invest in our students through relationship.
We listen to them, talk with them, go to their events (sports games, recitals, etc.), and are otherwise involved in their lives. And we allow them to be involved in ours, as well. Through the course of doing life together, relational equity is built. Through this relational equity, we earn the right to speak into a student's life.
It's important that this relational equity is established before a significant withdrawal is made. When it comes time to discipline or confront a student about something in their lives, it's the core relational equity that keeps the relationship from being hurt. If we have to make a "withdrawal" from a student's relational account without any preceding equity from investment, the student will likely turn away from us. It's not like we lose the chance to build a relationship, but we may make it significantly more challenging.
As youth leaders, it is essential that we make investments in students through building real relationships. You want to be able to influence students, and be influenced by them. And you might need to speak truth into their lives in a moment when this truth is difficult. When we make frequent and meaningful relational investments in students' lives, it makes the "withdrawals" a lot easier to manage!