community: we build it for others, but not for ourselves.

why is it so hard for youth workers to be in community with our peers?  oh, i know, because we don’t have peers.  our world consists of the students we work with and their parents.  we are consumed with our calling to students, so we spend the majority of our time and energy loving on, thinking about, praying for teenagers.  this is great for our job, but lousy for our social life.

we have strange hours, after school and evenings are prime time.  we wear strange clothes, getting away with wearing the clothes we wore in college to the office and priding ourselves on our lack of “dress” clothes.  and we are the lost demographic in the church, where are the 20 to 30 year olds in the church?

this combination makes having community seem impossible.

except in college towns and big cities, there is a gigantic hole in church demographics where the 20 to 30 year olds should be.  they must all still be in college towns or big cities, because they are not in suburbia, the place that hires most mid 20’s youth workers.  this awful truth makes finding community extremely difficult, especially for those youth workers coming out of an amazing college community experience.  this lack of peers makes it easy for us to throw ourselves wholly into our jobs and focus our attention on building community among our students.  but when the time comes that we desire to build community with other adults we have some challenges to overcome.

the hours we keep are the exact opposite of our peers in the working world.  most people with salaried positions work 9-5 and have every night open and every weekend is a two day break.  how old is it to have to plan two weeks out to find an open night to hang out and catch a movie?  how sad is it to miss out on camping trips and mini vacations because you have to back for sunday morning?  if you throw a spouse in the mix the times to develop community get even smaller.  add kids, forget about it.

i used to take pride in owning one pair of kakis and two ties.  but what i am noticing is that my lack of sophistication in my clothing has crept into my self image.  by dressing the part of a man child i find that i have a hard time connecting with young professionals in my area.  without even realizing it, i have self-selected out of some community because that community didn’t fit my mental image of myself.  the problem is that while high school students never change, they are always high school students, i am changing.  i am getting older and building friendships with my peers is getting harder and harder.

so what are youth workers to do?  adam mclane wrote a challenging blog about being emotionally healthy  and part of the solution was making sure we have community with other adults.  while this seems like a no brainer, we have to come to terms with the awful truth that the decks are stacked against us in this area.  so if we are going to pull it off it is going to take some intentional effort.

without adult community we wither and die.  so how do we get it:

  1. other youth workers. we are strange people with strange hours.  why not connect with like minded people and live life with them.  some of my best friends are and have been fellow youth workers from local and denominational networks.
  2. enjoy old people. while they aren’t as hip as you and go to bed too early, there is something freeing about being friends with people who are in a different life stage as you.  you don’t have to impress them, in fact you won’t.  but you will bless them with fun and laughter as you receive love and wisdom.
  3. take your time. real relationships with adults takes time.  the adult world is not like college.  we don’t live our entire lives on the same floor of a dorm.  we have jobs and families.  so to get the amount of hours in to build genuine friendship and community takes years.  but if you stick with it, the depth of community can be so sweet.  since the time it takes to build friendships with adults is often longer than the average stint for a youth worker, it might be time to consider dropping some deep roots and sticking around for a while longer.

our entire jobs are centered around building strong community with and for our students.  we just need to begin to practice what we preach.