Two days ago I interviewed a 75 year old man to come and work with our students. In his lifetime he has been a missionary in Japan, a suburban High School teacher, a substitute teacher in an urban school, and a woodworker. His first language was German, and he waxes the ends of his mustache so it is a fashionable handlebar. As we talked through what it meant to be a small group leader, and the responsibilities I was struck with how awesome this man was going to be. It’s clear that he will give his all to the group of JH boys he is going to lead, he even asked if at some point, once he has built a relationship with them he could teach them woodworking as a way of talking about Jesus.
I remember years ago Mike Yaconelli of YS talking about how students need different people in their lives to step in as extended family. The twentysomethings come along our youth as older siblings, the 30- 40 somethings as Aunts & Uncles, the next step is to be a Godparent, and then a grandparent. Yet, somehow I keep having conversations with churches where they talk about how they need the youth to be led by the young. They are the ones that are “relevant” and can “relate.” Then why is it that many of my best volunteers have been over the age of 35? It saddens me when someone is told they are “too old” for youth ministry, worse yet when a team member tells me they should probably step aside and let someone “with more energy step in.”
Have we forgotten that everyone has something to offer when it comes to working with youth? As Mike pointed out many years ago, each one is needed to surround students as family. It isn’t about young OR middle OR old. It’s all of us, together, pouring into a generation.
While we’re at it why do we assume the “younger” you are the more “relevant” you are? If you have lived with a teen you have perspective that is valuable. It’s my 51 year old sister-in-law who will get on the highest/fastest roller coaster in the country, not me- or my 14 year old for that matter. I just met a twenty five year old who refuses to be on Facebook or learn social media.
Being a great volunteer has nothing to do with age, or relevance. In urban ministry so often people tell me they have “nothing in common” with the students. Why not? Maybe you like the same ice cream flavor or television show. It’s about the willingness to listen and learn and give, not about being “one of the guys.” We are not all the same, and neither are the youth we serve. The Lord has put something in you that a youth out there needs… no matter what the age is…
Talk to me youth min nation! What’s your perspective on the “old,” the “young” and the “in between,” serving youth?