We’re Awkward So They Don’t Have to Be
By Joel Mayward
If you’ve been in youth ministry for any length of time, you’ve experienced it: the awkward.
It happens when you approach a group of high school girls to join their lively conversation, only to have them immediately stop talking, and greet you with shifting glances and one-word answers.
It happens when the middle school boy plops himself down to show you the latest YouTube video he made: an 11-minute long reinterpretation of all the songs in Frozen.
It happens when your own adolescent insecurities creep up as you try play basketball with the cool high school guys, and your athletic skills are found wanting.
It happens every time you walk into the youth room of the church or the high school hallway and get your first glimpse (and whiff) of the overwhelming crowd of teenagers before you.
Youth ministry is ripe with awkwardness. In the process of identity, young people seeking a sense of belonging and their unique place in the world are still trying to figure out social situations. It’s not just teenagers; adults—even those called to youth ministry—are still trying to navigate their own social fears and identity questions.
One of my personal ministry values is to create environments of belonging. Here’s a summary of that value:
“We will foster a culture of belonging, where it’s safe to ask questions and fail, where love is defined by sacrificial action. Love should be tangible, experienced by both youth leaders and teens in every arena, grace-soaked and truth-filled. Love requires loving the marginalized, intentionally moving into the margins to embrace the forgotten and ignored.”
The phrase “intentionally moving into the margins to embrace” embodies the task of incarnational ministry. Jesus entered our world to reveal the grace, truth, and glory of God (John 1:14). As adults who make disciples of young people, we are not called to sit on the sidelines, waiting and hoping for a teenager to approach us with a desire to follow Jesus. We proactively and graciously enter their world and embody the love and presence of Christ. We make the uncomfortable introductions, embrace the odd conversation topics, and generally embarrass ourselves for the sake of our students. We’re awkward so they don’t have to be.
The adolescent cry for belonging is impossible to ignore. Social structures are leveling out, forming a mosaic of interconnected social networks where all teens are equal and different. The Breakfast Club social boundary lines are becoming blurry, and the lunchroom hierarchy isn’t quite as skewed. The misfits and weirdoes of the world are becoming cooler and more diverse, but that doesn’t make it easier to fit in. If anything, it’s more difficult. With more unique, exclusive cliques than ever, it’s getting harder and harder to find one that welcomes anyone different.
The kingdom of God exhibited in our youth ministry should be the micro-culture where anyone and everyone can find grace and belonging, where all are welcomed because all are broken by sin and all can be saved by grace through faith.
While it’s impossible to fully achieve this ideal here and now, fostering environments of belonging means anyone who shows up to your youth group, small group, outreach event, retreat, or Sunday morning service should leave feeling genuinely loved. They might disagree with everything you said, they might be hostile towards Christianity, but our adult leaders’ willingness to humbly engage with anyone and everyone should foster this culture of belonging. We initiate. We invite. We walk up to the group, sit and watch the YouTube video, and join the basketball game. We enter into their alien worlds with love because that’s what Christ did for us.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More