Am I too young or too old for youth ministry?

Matt: This entire blog site is based on the premise that Steven and I are from two different generations, and we’re teaching the next generation. We use my old school techniques with Steven’s spin on them to keep them relevant and timely. When I first got into this whole student ministry volunteer thing, my first thought was I might be too old for these kids and they won’t relate to me or me to them. Very quickly I realized how wrong I was. I’ve always had a talent for talking to anybody in any setting. After about a month as a small group leader I discovered that the guys in my high school small group at Saddleback Church looked up to me for advice. Some of them have no positive male role model in their lives and I quickly learned that I was filling that role. 

Students just need to know you care. You don’t have to know how to play the guitar, have a lot of tattoos, long hair, piercings, and listen to rap and hip hop music (I’m a dedicated Frank Sinatra fan by the way) for them to like and relate to you. Sometimes you just have to show up in their lives – many of them have few people who show up for them. I make sure they know they can call or text me anytime if they need help, or advice or just need to talk. You also don’t need to be a Bible scholar and have all the biblical answers, you just need to know how to find the answers for them. Here’s the bottom line: I don’t think you can be too old to be a student ministry leader, you just need to have a heart for students, love Jesus, and want to be an example for them.

Steven: When I first got into youth ministry, I didn’t do it with the expectation that I would be doing it a long time. At that point in our junior high ministry, there weren’t many high school seniors like me that were leading groups of students, so at times I felt a little out of place with all the older leaders. There were also a lot of people that had been with Wildside, Saddleback’s junior high ministry, for years. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing compared to people like this. Like I said, I didn’t expect that I would be at it long – just a week at summer camp with 10 seventh grade boys and I would be on my way.

The other worry of mine was that there wasn’t a very big age gap between me and my students. Five years may seem like a lot when you’re young, but there’s always the worry of respect for someone not that much older than you. As it turns out, there were times when I wish I had more experience and a bigger age gap. Our last night at camp my first year, my guys wanted to make the most of their final night in camp, so things got kind of loud. When I say kind of loud, that’s just my interpretation – our junior high pastor, Kurt Johnston, ended up coming to tell us that our cabin was so loud he could hear us from across camp. Not a good way to end your first experience with a ministry.

Obviously that wasn’t my first and only experience with youth ministry, and I’m so glad that God gave me the extra push I needed to keep going. Everyone has it in them to do youth ministry, whether you think you’re too young, too old, too nerdy, not cool enough, or don’t have enough tattoos. If you’re just getting started and if you have these feelings, don’t give up. There are a ton of students that need a caring leader to guide them in one of the most difficult times of their lives.

What are your fears or insecurities as a leader in youth ministry?

Comments

  1. I’m curious…Most people I am finding who write about the topic of being “too old for youth ministry” are usually referring to the Leaders and Pastors of that area. My question is: Do you have any incite to “how old is too old for a student to be in youth ministry?”
    I have several College aged students who are close friends with the Senior and Juniors in High School. We need a policy of graduating them to the “next level” but currently we don’t have a focus on College students, so they’ve just continued to come to the Sr high Sunday school class and participate as students during the mid-week service.

    Thanks for you help on this.

    -Matt

    • Steven Orel says:

      At our church, our youth ministry ranges from junior high school to college. The different age groups are separated, so college students usually don’t mix with our high schoolers. Our college service is also on Thursday, and our high school and junior high services are on Saturday and Sunday.

      I definitely don’t see anything wrong with young college students being friends with older high school students, but I do think there should be some separation of the ages during worship services.

      If I were at your church, I would encourage the college students to attend a worship service with the adults, rather than the senior high services. I hope that helps!

      Let us know if we can offer any more suggestions!

      -Steven

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