I’ll be honest, this is something I’ve often wondered myself, especially over the past 6 months to a year. I think the a lot of youth workers got sucked into this question at one point or another or even monthly. It’s easy to say the “it’s never about me, but it’s about GOD and what HE’s doing in the life of teenagers” mantra, but again, let’s be honest, we want to know sometimes if what we’re doing is making a difference. Even with being on an unexpected hiatus, I can honestly say I’m pretty certain I made a difference in the lives of the kids I’ve ministered to over the years. The below article is a pretty good one with a some good nuggets for youth workers to keep in mind when dealing with the kids entrusted to them.
By Tammie Head
When I was younger, I struggled to understand what made life worth living. Before God saved me, it seemed to me as if life wasn’t worth the effort. Restless thoughts tirelessly entertained my mind. I longed for a different version of life and, furthermore, a different version of me. Deep in my soul’s fabric was an irksome sense of void and vacancy.
My momma had me when she was 15 years old. She was a troubled girl looking for a better situation. I cannot blame her. She ran into the arms of a young man who provided a safe harbor – his momma’s house. The marriage crumbled soon after, and my momma returned back home, now with a baby in tow. Many of my childhood memories are of us running to and from that tiny house – trying hard to survive. I probably don’t need to tell you that my momma lacked some maternal skills. Although, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t? Motherhood is a heavy weight of responsibility for anyone – let alone a young teen.
Due to our conditions, I often cried while asking, “Why don’t you love me?”
She’d quickly look away, purse her lips together, and say, “I do. I just don’t know how to show it.”
Later I would learn for myself – it’s hard to offer something you’ve never received.
Likewise, it’s also hard to receive something you never received while growing up.
Sadly, many of our students come from broken homes and broken families. Masses of young people do not actually feel loved or cared for. But all is not lost. This is where you and I come in. As Christ’s representative, you and I have the great privilege of being the love of God wrapped in warm human skin.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of our influence in someone’s life. Especially when we’re working with young people. Discouragement can abound. We can quickly find ourselves asking the same question scores of believers before us have also asked:
Is what I’m doing here making any headway at all for Christ or heart-transformation?
Yep, I get it. I’ve been there myself. That’s why I want to share with you three nuggets of wisdom I’ve experienced firsthand, both as a wounded young adult and as a mentoring adult.
- Love goes a long way.
You never fully know what your students are going through. God has entrusted them to your care. Remembering how Jesus continually loves us even when we’re unlovable is an excellent reminder that you and I have the great privilege to do likewise. I cannot encourage you enough – remain gentle with students’ hearts. Keeping kindness on the tip of our tongues goes an extraordinarily long way, especially with students.
- See your students as redeemed, not pitifully broken.
You and I are called to see others in the same way the Lord sees us. Our Father sees us not as the broken vessels we have been or are right now. No, our Father sees us as the beautiful vessels Christ has made us through His shed blood on the Cross. Likewise, when we see students through the lens of redemption and treat them accordingly, students will often naturally desire to arise into the person we are seeing and treating them to be. I know this one from personal experience. Believing in those who hardly believe in themselves transforms people.
- Comfort first, instruct later.
Like Adam in the garden before the creation of Eve, it is not good for man to be alone. Aloneness, or a sense thereof, is an emotionally oppressive factor in the hearts of students who come from troubled families. If a student is courageous enough to share a window into their pain, be aggressive (in a good way!) in comforting them in their pain. Now is not the time to offer godly wisdom or theological answers, or to cheerlead them into believing God. Comfort, comfort, comfort. By comforting first, you will minister to their aloneness and ultimately pave the way for their hearts to receive sound instruction when it’s time.
I can verifiably say if these three nuggets of wisdom are at work in your attitude and interactions with the students God has entrusted to you, you’re bearing much fruit. Press on!
Tammie Head is the author of “More: From Messes to Miracles” (B&H Publishing).