How Old Is “Too Old” In Youth Ministry?
It’s the secret, unspoken fear of many of youth ministry’s finest and most experienced leaders…they are concerned that they are getting “too old.” Since I myself am a part of the Baby Boomer crowd who remains actively involved in local youth ministry, allow me to give you a few thoughts on this important question. I’ve wrestled with this mind game often, but in the last few years, I’ve come to some encouraging conclusions:
- The typical stereotype of effective youth leaders is blatantly wrong.
You know the model I’m talking about…young, cool, athletic, funny, and good looking. Lots of years in youth ministry have affirmed over and over that many of the very BEST leaders are none of the above. They are often anywhere between 40 to 60 years of age and are fun-loving but not necessarily funny. In fact, they are often a few pounds overweight and not exactly a retired football pro. They just love Jesus and teenagers.
- Today’s fractured families and lack of caring adult role models actually makes age an advantage…as long as you remain flexible on the ever-changing “little things” in youth ministry.
We all know how few American families have the “model mom and dad” at the helm. So because of that, an older youth leader who sincerely cares about a teenager meets a deep, God-given need for adult nurturing. In my own experience, I feel like students bond to me even quicker now than 35 years ago. The only “catch” is that you remain flexible on debatable things like loud music and body piercings! I remind myself often, “Jeanne, keep the main thing…the main thing.”
- The only indispensable quality for being an effective youth leader has nothing to do with age. It’s a genuine love for a few teenagers.
This is the only “dividing line,” plain and simple. If you care about a student and make the effort to care about “their world,” you will win their trust and friendship. Granted, some students may take a little longer to “come around.” But like 1 Corinthians 13 reminds all of us, authentic, consistent love is the “trump card” in most all situations. In “Mayo language,” attempt to be “Jesus with skin on.”
I remember when one of my best volunteers sheepishly attempted to resign. His reason? He had just turned 50 and felt like “the kids won’t relate to someone my age.” Let me wrap up by sharing with you what I told that awesome guy: “About the time you have enough experience in youth ministry to have a clue as to what you’re doing, the Enemy usually starts to make you feel ‘too old.’ Please don’t quit now. Your most effective days are just ahead, if you’ll fight through the mind games.” So no matter how old you are, remember that age is far more an issue of ATTITUDE than it is of YEARS. After five decades in youth ministry, I’m still going strong. Adult ministry looks pretty boring!