What is the ideal age to volunteer in youth ministry? At what age should I step away from working with youth? Am I too old to volunteer? Is there any real benefit to having older generations serve in student ministry?
These are questions I have been asked countless times in a multitude of ministry settings. For some reason we have begun to believe that our ability to to engage with and serve others is directly dependent upon our age. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I get into the “right age for student ministry leaders” let me first dispel some myths we have allowed ourselves to believe:
I don’t understand culture, therefore I cannot relate to students.
I think sometimes we try to sell ourselves short because there is a generational divide or perhaps we don’t understand what is happening in our world. But the reality is you don’t need to understand culture to love and serve students. We aren’t called to be ambassadors for the culture but for Christ. So I would encourage you to consider stepping in and leading students by showing how the Gospel permeates all parts of their lives. But also let me encourage you to be a student of culture. Don’t sit by and think that because you can point students to Jesus, that you don’t need to understand what is happening. This is their world, so understanding it more will help you better serve them and point them to Jesus.
Technology isn’t for me, so I can’t communicate in the way students need.
I get it! It is so hard to keep up with technology, in fact students struggle with it too. What might be in today, will be replaced tomorrow. But here is what you need to know: simply because you don’t understand or don’t use technology is not a reason to be disqualified from serving in student ministry. In fact, I believe students need to disconnect from technology more because they are missing out on interpersonal relationships. Using who you are and your desire to connect on a relational level with them is more valuable than your technological prowess. Use this as leverage, not a crutch. But let me also encourage you to at least get into texting with students. You don’t need to use social media (although it wouldn’t hurt to have an account), but texting is the way the majority of students communicate. And if you don’t have a texting plan, check out various free apps (like WhatsApp) to use texting free of charge over WiFi.
I am too old to keep up with students, so I’m out.
Let me be pretty frank here: I am 33 years old and I can’t keep up with students. I try, but usually just end up getting hurt. Just because we may not have the physic we once did, the ability to put away food and not gain weight, or the energy that our students have isn’t a reason to walk away. Some of the coolest moments I have witnessed is when my older leaders love on students, play games even when they know they won’t win, and encourage their students. The ability to laugh, share life, and just be with one another is more important than being able to “keep up” with them. You don’t need to be the superstar athlete or the leader who can compete in triathlons, you need to be a leader who loves students, pours into them, validates them, and sticks around. That is more important than trying to keep up.
Students won’t listen to me because I am so old.
Students can be tough. I am a student pastor and there are times I truly wonder if they hear what I am teaching them. I prepare messages, I study hard, I try to relate, but there are moments I know they don’t listen. But I am not saying that to discourage you. In fact I am saying that to encourage you! Because while some students may not always listen, there are those that do. And even the ones who may not listen for a season do hear and learn from what you say and do. Don’t think that if someone doesn’t listen you aren’t needed or valued. In fact it is just the opposite. Lean in, keep pursuing them, and love them all the more.
I am more of a parent figure than a leader.
Sweet! Me too! I have worked with many parents and grandparents who don’t want to be seen that way because they fear it will keep students from opening up or discredit them. What I say to that is this: students need parents and parent figures. So many students today don’t have solid parents or role models so be that for them. Show them what a loving mom or dad or grandparent looks like. You aren’t there to parent them, but to love them and point them to Jesus, and the way you do that is by being who God has made you to be. Mom, Dad, brother, sister, grandpop, grandmom, and friend. That is who you are live it out. Don’t pigeonhole yourself and think it disqualifies you, use who God made you to be to reach students.
Teens scare me! I don’t think I could do this.
That’s okay, adults scare me! There are always going to be moments when fear invades our hearts, but we cannot give it the ability or the forum to control our lives. If you are scared of serving students, ask yourself, “What scares me about it?” And seek to overcome it. God didn’t give you a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power! Use it and pour into students.
So to answer the question, what is the right age…well honestly the right age is whenever God calls you to student ministry. You are never too old, you are never too removed, you are never past your prime. If God has put students on your heart run after them. Love them like Christ loves the church. Share life with them. Listen to them. Mentor them and bring them in. Don’t let perceived inadequacies or fear keep you from action, but rely upon God, study up on culture, and run hard after students.
If you are currently serving in student ministry and wondering if you are “too old” for it, next week we will dive into some questions you can ask to self-assess.