5 Roles Youth Workers Play in the Lives of Teenagers by Andy Blanks
We’ve all seen them: articles, videos, and lectures given by people who don’t believe youth ministry is necessary or even biblical. While these people certainly are entitled to their opinions, and while most of them are sincerely seeking the most effective and God-honoring way to do ministry, I don’t agree with them. I think youth ministry is necessary. I think it’s biblical. And in some ways, I think it can even be vital.
There are roles a youth worker plays in the life of our teenagers that can be essential to our students spiritual development.
In most cases, these roles are played out alongside a parent. In some cases, these roles take the place of a parent who can’t or won’t play them. Here are five roles a youth worker can and should play in the lives of the teenagers to whom they minister.
My daughters listen to their mother. I can offer advice that sometimes goes unheeded. But if my wife says the same thing, they’ll follow it. Funny how that works. ☺ We can play the same role in the lives of teenagers. Our message can be the same as their parents. But because it comes from us, a non-parent adult engaged in their life, many times it makes more of an impact. Guess what: this isn’t in spite of their parents; it’s because of it. The best thing we can do as a youth worker is reinforce the biblical values being taught by our teenager’s parents.
My oldest daughter has begun a mentoring relationship with a youth worker at our church. The last meeting they had together followed a morning where my daughter had found herself on the wrong side of several or our family rules. I know that during her lunch with her mentor she vented some. And you know what? I’m totally OK with that. Teenagers need to blow off steam. You did when you were a teenager. So did I. I love that I am a safe place for my students to vent. We can allow them to decompress in an environment that is supportive of their parents and encouraging of them as individuals.
Let’s face it: there are issues that teenagers deal with that they don’t feel comfortable talking with their parents about. As youth workers, we can be a sounding board for these types of issues. A listening ear. A voice of reason. Issues with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Issues with sexual temptation. Relational issues. We can provide advice, prayer, and encouragement for issues that so many teenagers just feel weird talking to mom and dad about.
Of course, there is a huge caveat here. We can never keep secrets. I tell the teenagers in my small groups that they can trust me with their issues, but the moment they tell me something that is potentially harmful to them or harmful to someone else, mom and dad are going to get involved. We can also never operate in place of mom or dad. We should always ask two questions: “Do your parents known about this?” And “How do your parents feel about this,” and strive to support their authority in their son or daughter’s lives. Being a confidant is a vital role, but one where common sense has to be exercised.
Many of our students don’t have a parent in their home who models a life devoted to Christ. This is tragic. We have the opportunity week in and week out to model what it looks like to pursue Christ above all else, to value meeting God regularly in His Word, to worship God wholeheartedly, and to serve others in Christ’s name. For teenagers without role models, this is vital. For teenagers with parental role models, it’s more of a good thing.
We each have the chance to, in the words of Paul in Ephesians 3:19, help students know [the love of Christ] that surpasses knowledge.” In my experience, there are a number of parents out there who aren’t in the practice of teaching their children to grow closer to Christ. For those that do, we are a wonderful supplement. For those that don’t, we stand in the gap. The opportunity to weekly showing teenagers God in His Word is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s a role we should all take seriously and approach with great joy.