When is a youth worker too old to be effective?
I've noticed something that happens to us youth workers around our mid-30's, or so. We find ourselves unable to naturally relate to teenagers. Most of us have reached a point where we don't automatically pick up on their references like we did in our 20's. They mention a fad or a movie and we realize we have no idea what they're talking about. This happens enough, and it begins to bother us.
We begin to think that means we're too old. We hear a clock ticking inside of us. We say something like, "I've lost my relevance."
There are other signs, as well . . . The needle on our fun-meter isn't as often moved by the games and the recreation. We think, "I need to move on to more adult things." We see our peers "advancing" to become Minister to Adults or Teaching Pastors. We say to ourselves, "I need to move on to real ministry." We see our friends leaving the ministry. We say to ourselves, "Is it time for me to quit playing around and get a real job?"
The problem with this scenario is that it comes at the precise time when we're positioned to do some of the most meaningful ministry of our lives (up to this point).
At the exact time when these feelings are banging around in our heads, many of us are just arriving at a point where we can really pour spiritual wisdom into the lives of those we lead. When I was leading students at age 25, if I was being transparent, I led as a peer as much as anything else.
The 35 year old me and the 25 year old me have very little in common, spiritually speaking. And it's not just spiritual experience. I've lived life! In 10 years I've had three children, changed careers, lost a sibling and three grandparents, gone off to war, traveled and ministered around the world, and so on. I bet your story is similar.
In each of these situations, I've learned more about God and how He works in this world and in my life. My faith has been tested and stretched and shaped in ways I couldn't have begun to imagine as a younger man. I bet you'd say the same.
Aren't we in a better position to lead students in their faith based on our faith-shaping experiences? I'm a more effective discipler in large part because of the wisdom that God has worked in my life through these years. The same can be said about your ability to lead others. The same can be said about your ability to listen to others. The same can be said about your patience, and your ability to work well with people who may be difficult to work with.
And one of the biggest tragedies of people leaving youth ministry at this critical stage in their lives is the wealth of practical knowledge that leaves with them.
It seems each week I encounter a youth worker who is just getting started. Some are just kids, some are moms and dads. I hear them asking me and others for help. Help with strategy. Help with methodology. Help with with their heart and vision.
When youth ministers who have been in the game six, or eight, or ten years moves on, they take with them a treasure-trove of practical experience. As a middle aged youth worker, you are in the best position to be a mentor to younger youth workers. And when you leave because it's maybe not as "fun" anymore, or because you "feel" out of touch (when the truth is that you simply have to try a little harder), or because you're envious of your friend who has "moved up" in the ministry world . . . when you walk away because of these things and NOT because of God's leading, you rob youth and youth workers from the spiritual and practical wisdom that God has birthed in you.
When is a youth worker too old to be effective? Never.
And as I've stated here, an argument could be made that you're at your most effective with a little age under your belt.