04 Apr So You Wanna Be A Youth Leader?
For the past six years, I have been a youth leader to the most amazing group of girls. Throughout the years we have had many girls come and go, but I’m so thankful for my time with each one of them. If you were to tell me when I started that I would get to the place that I’m at today, I would never have believed you. I would never have believed that I would grow so close to my co-leader, I would never have believed that these girls would challenge and push me so much in my faith, and I definitely wouldn’t have believed that I would be able to love and care for these girls as much as I do. Since they are only seven years younger than me, I often view them as my little sisters, and I think this makes our bond that much deeper. I know their parents have the primary influence and responsibility in their lives, and that we come alongside them to help, but God has given me such a heart and love for them, that I can’t help but refer to them as “my girls.”
This year is my girls’ final year – grade 12 – the big finale. It has been a year of not only reminiscing over the past six years (especially for the girls who started with us in the first couple years) but also a year of trying to really help them grow in their faith in a lasting way. We have shared a lot with each other over the years; we’ve talked about struggles and trials, cried with each other, laughed with each other, supported each other, prayed for each other, pushed and challenged each other. It has been so amazing watching them go from quiet, innocent 12-year-olds to now beautiful, mature, 18-year-olds who have hopes and dreams for their future, who can see their true identity in Christ, and who have made their faith their own. Though this year is already not looking the way we had hoped (with grad, prom, final exams, etc. being up in the air), we trust that we serve a sovereign God who has a plan through it all.
In the summer of 2018, I had the incredible joy of being able to witness one of my youth girls give her life to Christ. She had come to me earlier that year and told me that she didn’t think she was a Christian. We immediately started doing Bible studies together, such as Christianity Explored, and it was so amazing watching her question things and realize things for the first time about a faith she thought she knew. Through time spent in small group, at retreats, and with the girls one-on-one or two-on-one, one of the greatest things is always to witness something finally click for them. Something you say time and time again because it just makes sense for you, but something that they have to test and understand for themselves. The joy of the Spirit spreading across their face when they just “get it” is incredible. In the same way, I also love watching the girls challenge each other. Not always being the one trying to help them through struggles and helping point them to Christ but watching them encourage and push each other in their faith really makes you realize that God is working beyond you in their hearts. It really is an incredible thing to have a backstage pass at being able to watch God at work in your students’ lives.
Though being a youth leader is a lot of fun, there is a lot of challenges and struggles that go with it. For example, this past year, spring of 2019, we realized our insurance rules stopped us from being able to talk to and hangout with our girls one-on-one. The older they get, the more they go through and deal with that I just want to be there for them. I used to think being a youth leader was so easy and almost wished our girls were going through more, and then they hit the teen years (DUN DUN DUN). I was not prepared for the amount of stuff that would go on in their lives, and I was not equipped to deal with it. Some of it I handled well, and some of it I didn’t. I can honestly say, that if it were not by God’s strength and wisdom, I would not have been able to handle things the way I did. When I saw my girls go through heartbreaking situations, and I had to sit and listen to them explain situations that I would never wish upon anyone, I knew God was pushing and challenging me too. Sometimes in the midst of it all, all I could do was cry out to Him for strength and the words to say to encourage these young women. Time and time again, He was faithful. He never left me and my co-leader on our own. He always showed up and He always helped us push on and do what we could to help our girls.
When I first became a youth leader, I thought I had gone through more in my life than the average Joe and that God would use my testimony in crazy ways to change my girls’ lives. How lucky for them! Boy was I wrong. Turns out, none of my girls went through the same things I did. I kept waiting for something to happen that I could say, “I went through that exact same thing, let me tell you what I did…” but it never came. One of the greatest lessons that God has taught me through being a youth leader has been to surrender my pride and to trust in His guidance. I couldn’t change and mould my girls lives like I wanted to, I had to sit back and give them advice when asked, pray for them, encourage them, but ultimately let God do the work. This was really hard for me many times as my fleshly self would get the best of me and I would want to control their lives and help them not make the same mistakes I did, or I saw others make before them. When I thought God was only working on my girls and in their lives, I didn’t realize that He was changing me too. He was helping me to become more compassionate and patient, to sit and listen, and not try and react and change a situation instantly. He was helping me realize that sometimes, no matter how many times I said something, they wouldn’t understand until they were meant to, until God brought them through that life lesson. Being a youth leader has been one of the most challenging and yet rewarding times in my life. It has been one of the most time-consuming and stressful, and yet refreshing and fulfilling seasons in my life, and it has been one of the most heartbreaking and yet encouraging things I’ve gone through.
Now, for those of you who think that this sounds like the best thing ever and that you HAVE to be a youth leader, before you go knocking down Jeremy’s door, there’s one thing I want to encourage you with before you make this commitment. It isn’t just about showing up on a Wednesday night, or about being there at the events or retreats, or about making friends with all of the other youth leaders. Being a good youth leader involves sacrifice, determination, commitment, compassion, but most of all, dependence on God. Your students, I guarantee you, will go through trials and challenges that will make you want to throw in the towel and say, “I didn’t sign up for this”, they will roll their eyes at you and get mad at you, they will drive you crazy and make you want to rip your hair out (especially at 3:00 in the morning on night two of winter camp), but they will also depend on you to point them to Christ and be a role model to them of how to live a life on fire for Him. As a youth leader, Wednesday nights come week after week, month after month, even year after year, but each Wednesday night is another chance for you to try and help your students see how incredible God is and how much they need Him to be Lord of their lives. Each Wednesday night, the leaders pray together for God to give them wisdom and strength because they know that they cannot do anything apart from His strength and they know that we can show up and do everything right, but if He is not present, it is all done in vain. So, want to be a youth leader? I encourage you to invest in your students from day one. God has given you this incredible opportunity to help influence a young person’s life, but in order to do that, you have to rid yourself of any pride and self-righteousness and realize that you are weak and incapable apart from Him, and you need to seek His strength and wisdom each Wednesday. Each day really. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.