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Stop Telling Me I’m Too Old for Youth Ministry

By Leneita Fix September 1, 2015

The first incident happened entirely by accident. I was out and about when I ran into a friend. He asked, “Are you on your way to the going-away party?” I was confused. I knew a coworker was moving, but hadn’t heard about any sort of celebration. We weren’t close, so I wasn’t hurt. Trying to sooth my feelings, my friend said, “Well, it’s really for her young adult friends.” He stumbled over his words, got flustered, and hurried off to the event. I didn’t have time to verbalize the thought now stuck in my head: So you’re saying I’m old.

A few days later, a teacher from a local Christian school approached me and said, “You know a lot of people. I really like asking young adults to lead chapel, because I feel like they can better relate to what our teens are going through. Do you know anyone who could speak at our school services?” Ouch again. I thought to myself, I would like to speak, but apparently I’m just too aged.

Finally, I was sitting in a parent meeting for my high school kids, and they were announcing a parent training for the fall. One of the selling points was that the group leading the training could help us understand our teens better because they were all under 30. I heard the message loud and clear: I’m out of touch, past my prime, and too old to understand my own kids.

I have regular conversations with youth leaders lamenting that they need to recruit more volunteers in their 20s—people teens can actually relate to. It’s enough to get me wondering if I am just too old to work with students anymore.

You may not think you are conveying the message that there is an expiration date for youth ministry, but when you make statements like those I mentioned above, you forget some things:

We all need to learn from people younger and older than us.

Practically speaking, a 20-something hasn’t lived as much life as someone in their 40s, 50s, or even 70s. We should never dismiss the voice of the young, but we in youth ministry tend to forget those with more life experience. They’ve earned their wisdom because they’ve lived through many of the issues younger people can only imagine. Let’s not forget this as we hire youth ministry staff and look for volunteers.

We ignore calling and passion.

If we recruit solely based on age, we forget that not all people in their 20s want to, or even should, hang out with teenagers. What if someone who’s older is passionate about a topic our teens need to learn about? In seventh grade, my daughter took a study surveying the Old Testament with a 78-year-old retired pastor. Now, at 16, she attributes much of her faith foundation to that class with that man. His age didn’t matter, only his passion.

We tell parents they are irrelevant.

Many parents of tweens and teens already feel inadequate. (This comes from personal experience.) Every statistic I can think of says parents have the most influence in their child’s life. A friend of mine recently told me he read an article that claims it takes a youth leader four hours with a student to make the same impact as 15 minutes with a parent. Yet we sell our programs and small groups with the incentive that young adults can better connect with their kids. It may not be our intention to say this, but many parents will hear this as, “You are too old to understand your children. You might as well stop trying. Leave it to the younger generation to teach them.” Then we wonder why parents want to pass the parenting on to us.

We miss opportunities for great volunteers.

One of my favorite youth leaders has never been particularly cool. She doesn’t listen to the same music or watch the movies students like. I have known her for over 20 years and have never met a student who doesn’t love her. Why? Because she loves them deeply, and they always know it. Does she connect with teens? Absolutely. Pass her by because she’s too old, and you will have missed out on an amazing youth leader.

Now I wholeheartedly believe our youth ministries need student leaders to teach other students. That’s peer-to-peer growth, and it provides something we just can’t find anywhere else.

But try as I might, I just can’t find a Bible passage telling me there is an age requirement for speaking into the lives of students. Moses was 80 when God called him, but Jeremiah and Timothy were young. Paul could not have been young when he had his Damascus road experience, based on his level of education. David and Daniel were both teens when we first meet them in Scripture, as was Mary when she became pregnant with the Messiah. Jesus was 30 when he started his ministry. Abraham was 100 when God promised to make his descendants into a great nation.

Do you see my point? There’s no consistent age to those who speak into the lives of others on God’s behalf. Students need to hear from authentic people who care about them, want to know them, and most importantly, love Jesus.

So let’s make a deal. Could you please stop telling me I’m too old for youth ministry? I promise to always tell you that, if you care about teens and love Jesus, you have a place in my ministry.

CC Image courtesy Vinoth Chandar on Flickr.

About the Author

Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix co-founded Frontline Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace  to equip, coach, and speak into the lives of those working with families living in a “survival mode” mentality. They refer to this thinking as the “new urban.” Combined, they carry almost four decades of experience in the family ministry setting, most of it in traditional urban ministry. However each…  Read More