What makes a great youth worker?

Today “A Match Made in Heaven: Teens and Older Adults” hit my inbox from Immerse Journal. If you’re not receiving the weekly e-mails from Immerse, I highly recommend that you sign up. They are often thought-provoking, relevant, and insightful, just like the physical magazine counterpart.

This particular ejournal discusses the life stages of young people mirroring that of older adults. While many churches think that young adults make for the best youth workers, this article argues that older adults need to be considered as a potentially relevant pool to draw from in terms of youth workers. Youth workers can certainly be relevant regardless of age and life-stage and article encourages youth workers look outside the box and find similarities between young people and older people. Because of the similar life-stage, there can be a natural connection and mentoring relationship when the right people are involved.

This article also reminded me of an excellent youth ministry story. When I worked in the local church, I took some junior high students to a retirement community. This center housed seniors in a variety of different stages from independent living to 24-hour medical care. We spent our time with those adults who needed some assistance, but were still living somewhat independently. The students and I played games with the adults, blew bubbles together, and enjoyed an afternoon of fun together.

As we were leaving, one of the students made an incredibly insightful comment about how the adults we were spending time with had a lot in common with the junior high students. Both groups were struggling for independence and freedom. Both could easily find joy in the little things in life. The student observed that the older folks were just as innocent and playful as the junior highers, must more so than typical adults who seem caught up in the busy-ness of life.

That perspective and incredible insight helped me reshape my thoughts of an effective youth worker and what students were looking for in a healthy relationship. We tend to think, even subconsciously, that students are looking for cool and hip adults to relate to.  The adults we played games with that day didn’t know any of the junior high lingo, weren’t familiar with the newest gaming system, and definitely weren’t what these young people would consider stylish. Even still, the older adults provided life experience, innocence, and a simpler life style that was unusual to many young people.

Think about this the next time you’re recruiting a new Sunday School teacher, youth volunteer, or counselor. While I would never intentionally exclude a potential volunteer because of age or life-stage, this article and student interaction did remind me to constantly be thinking deeper about student and adult relationships.

Have you ever been surprised by a healthy mentoring relationship between an student and an adult volunteer?