what youth want most from adults


What youth (and younger kids) want most from adults is for adults to act like adults.

Not like their current favorite musicians, or actors, or athletes. Just adults. No need to use youth slang, or dress like them. Contrary to what I’ve read from some youth and kids leaders, it’s okay not to wear printed shirts and designer jeans. Seriously. Just be yourself. Sure, take a shower, wear clean, reasonably fitted clothing, and brush your hair and teeth. But don’t try to blend into the youth crowd as if you are some kind of 40 year old teen. You will just scare them away.

They want you to be kind, but not overbearing in your attentiveness toward them. They want to know you are interested in their lives, but they also do not want to be asked the same questions each time you see them. You know, “How’s school? Are you staying out of trouble? Have you heard my latest lame joke?” And so on.

What they do want is to be taken seriously. I know. It can be hard at times, especially when the boys wear their pants so they are falling off their hips and when the girls get catty with each other over perceived slights. Do what I do. Keep quiet and look for prime opportunities to have real conversations. About life, the weather, their skateboarding exploits, or artistic endeavors. You get the idea. Young people want meaningful relationships with adults but they can be wary at first.

Can you blame them? Some of us adults act pretty weird at times, especially when we are trying to ingratiate ourselves to teens. So, stop it. Don’t worry about impressing anyone. Be comfortable in your own skin. And do so with the love of Jesus and a sincere care for the kids. That will impress them most of all. And you won’t even have to wear a goofy print shirt because the kids will perceive something about you that penetrates far deeper than external appearances.

They will know you are real and trustworthy. And they come to recognize that if you possess trustworthy character, maybe God does too. Imagine that.


Relating to Parents in Student and Children’s Ministry


If you are a leader in student or children’s ministry, do you remember the first time it dawned on you that you needed to figure out how to relate well to parents of kids in your ministry? I do.


A kid was acting up and I needed to go get his dad to help motivate the child toward better behavior. The child was a pastor’s kid. And the dad? Yea, you guessed it. He was one of the staff pastors.

That incident early in my leadership journey commenced a long road toward learning how to engage parents in conversation, learning how to connect with them with a fully orbed relational perspective. I recognized intuitively that if the only time I approach parents is in the context of their child’s alleged misdeeds, then I was sowing the seeds of destruction in my relationship with them, not to mention ignoring the majority of parents whose children got along just fine.

I didn’t want to be one of those children’s pastors. I wanted to do all that I could to love and pastor both the children and their parents in proactively positive ways. I would go to ball games and concerts. I visited families in their homes. On one occasion I acted as a surrogate father for an young girl whose single mom asked me to attend an awards ceremony honoring the girl (and other children) since the mother could not afford to miss work to attend. The girl beamed with pride as she came off the stage before the cheering crowd and ran into my arms for a hug.

I shared my life with families. Introvert that I am, I strived to overcome my preference for seclusion in order to be faithful in my responsibility to love in the way of Jesus and influence parents to do the same for each other and their children.

There is no secret elixir that will miraculously transform you into a guru of relating to parents. It’s hard work. It means swallowing your pride, ditching some of your ambitions, and choosing to let certain debates revert to the loss column, because you know what? It’s not about you, leaders. It’s about being faithful to the call God has placed on your life. It’s about modeling the way of Jesus.

Don’t worry. God has your back. He will deal with the gossipy parents and kids. He will also deal with senior leadership when they choose sides before gaining an understanding of the whole story. Just be faithful. Be kind. Be consistent in your love for all the kids, all the parents, and all of the church’s leadership.

Respect from parents is earned over the long-term through consistent, daily, credible fulfillment of your responsibilities to the church, the parents, the kids, and especially to the Lord God.

Got feedback for this post? Fire away. I want to hear from you.

High School Football: an opportunity to observe social behavior


I went to a local high school football game this evening. I usually try to catch a few of them each year. Brings back memories. So many of them. If you concentrate hard enough you might even be able to figure who that kid in the photo is. Go ahead. Give it a whirl.

It’s different sitting in the stands. I go because I enjoy watching the action on the field. I am learning that many attendees–particularly a large percentage of the Jr High and Sr high students–have other competing interests. It’s a rich environment for ethnographic observation.

Typically I sit high in the home stands on the east side, as far from the band and screaming die-hard student fans as possible. It’s still crowded, but at least there is some leg room. Students fill in empty spots all around me. They text incessantly, update their Facebook and MySpace statuses, gossip, flirt, show off their jerseys (freshman and JV players), run back and forth to change seats or see what’s happening in other parts of the stadium, get food, gossip some more, and generally flit about like the social butterflies so many of them are.

Not that all of them are like this. Just the ones seeking to be seen and noticed by as many people as possible.

It’s fascinating to behold, this social melting pot. There is a whole world of experiences that they come to expect when they attend a football game, most of which have nothing to do with football. It’s Friday night. A dance is scheduled immediately following the game. Who will they go with? Will they go at all? Beyond the west end zone are the grills cooking hamburgers. It’s a popular spot for kids to gather without the distraction of cheering and referee whistles. They focus on their friends and potential dates.

Behind the home stands younger kids hang out, chasing each other around, climbing on equipment, despite posted warnings to the contrary. When they get bored they go to the field east of the stands and chase each other some more.

I have witnessed these and numerous other social constructs played out over the years I’ve attended games at this particular stadium. Curiosity causes me to wonder at the implications. Maybe the onset of boredom contributed, as well. After all, the initially close game (22-18 at the half) devolved into a blowout by the fourth quarter (39-18 with 9 minutes left in the game).

However, for those who minister to people in general and youth and kids in particular, my point is this: observe the social settings of those whom you influence. It is rich with information which will deeply inform your preparations to impact them with the gospel.