James (not his real name) is a core student of mine who I’ve been trying to meet with for a couple of months. We have a weekly routine. I text him and ask if he can get together this week. He replies with one reason or another why he’s too busy to meet. Wash, rinse, repeat. James and I have a great relationship. He’s not avoiding me to, he’s just busy.
On this surface, this is a classic example of a teenager who isn’t committed. Youth workers LOVE to complain about the busyness of teens these days. We talk about how sports, school activities and a lack of priorities is eroding the faith of teens. It’s easy to blame these external factors because it shifts the focus off of ourselves.
All this complaining leads me to think that we’ve unintentionally equated church attendance with spiritual maturity. We live by the axiom “Mature teens are in youth group more than non-mature teens.” We do this because it’s easy to measure and it makes logical sense. After all, God did create us for community and the church is the way God has chosen to work in the world. The problem is that this assumption subtly changes our job description. We go from being a shepherd who pursues students to a salesman who must convince kids to come. Success is defined as spiritual brand loyalty where teens are repeat customers. I can influence these kinds of results, but ultimately, they are out of my control.
So let’s put you back in the driver’s seat and focus on a success profile that you CAN control.
I’d like to suggest that you and your leaders’ commitment to students is more important than your student’s commitment to your youth group.
Instead of convincing students to show up at your stuff, why don’t you spend your energy showing up at theirs?
In the awesome book Creating a Lead Small Culture, the Orange folks talk about challenging leaders to show up predictably, mentally and randomly in students’ lives. The emphasis is leaders going to their students instead of expecting them to come to us.
This isn’t a new revelation but a reminder of a timeless truth. Jesus didn’t wait for us to come to his Trinity party. Nope. He packed up his stuff and moved into our neighborhood. That’s why he compared himself to the Shepherd who left the many to pursue the one sheep who had gone astray. (Luke 15:1-7)
Pursuing students will generally result in students who are more consistent. When our leadership team did the research for our students we found that the students we pursued more were the ones who showed up more. I never said our team was brilliant. It just confirms what I already understand. I am a pastor, not a salesman. I cannot convince someone into the kingdom, but I can reflect Jesus’ unrelenting love for us. When we as youth workers understand this we can pursue teens with joy instead of guilt.
I may not be successful at getting James to come hang out with me, but I am successful at pursuing James. I believe that means a lot to him. He know that each week I am pursuing him in the name of Jesus and that is going to stick with him long after he graduates. So next week, I’ll send out that text and that will be my success story. What will be yours?
Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick