Most youth workers, including me, have been doing student ministry since they were students themselves. Because of this reality, there is often an unchecked issue brewing just below the surface. This is that we often fail to differentiate our spiritual development and needs from those of our students.
Remember being a high school student?
There was a time, and maybe you are still in that time, when you remember being a high schooler and you remember the spiritual journey of that time. This memory is one of the things that makes you such a great youth worker. I remember how great it was when I first started out in student ministry. Whatever I was learning, however I was growing, only added fuel to my growing passion for students and for them to encounter the living God who was rocking my world! In fact, I have found that it is always best to teach from a place of authenticity and personal growth.
But as the years wore on, I began to realize that I was outpacing the spiritual development of my students. I found myself trying on new ways of connecting with Jesus. Lectio Devina, candles, solitude. I found that the more I was growing spiritually, the more I wanted to share my new spiritual growth with my students. But now realized, the more I shared with my students, the more I was losing them.
We have different spiritual needs than our students do:
Now I had a difficult choice, do I take my spiritual trajectory and put it on our students and simply justify it by saying I want a deep youth ministry? Or do I differentiate my faith and find the appropriate level of spirituality for 15 year olds and create a ministry that is appropriate for this demographic.
This is where I see many of my colleagues realize there is a fork in the road. And this fork often has two disastrous outcomes. The authentic and deep road ends up causing conflict in the church and a question to the call of student ministry. The age appropriate 15 year old spirituality road seems to often stunt the spiritual growth and maturity of the youth worker.
I found a third way that actually changed my life. After trying the deep and authentic way with little to no success in the actual student ministry, I went after the age appropriate student ministry. But I was able to do this because I had someone walk with me through this spiritual journey and allowed me to differentiate my walk from students. This was needed because they were no longer my peers, and I was no longer even like an older brother. I was fully an adult, and they continued to stay kids.
Would you consider spiritual direction as part of your diet as you move forward?
I started “spiritual direction” reluctantly, but as part of a staff-wide initiative to get our spiritual houses in order. I didn't need it and plus it sounded weird. And truthfully, I dug my heals in for several months. But soon I actually allowed space for the Holy Spirit, and the discernment and care of my spiritual director to help me explore underdeveloped parts of my faith, to differentiate from my students and colleagues, and to gain a clearer understanding of the unique person that God was calling me to be.
If you have the opportunity, I hope that you will take advantage of having a spiritual director. And if that is nowhere near part of your world, I do pray that you find good and godly council who will spur you on to know and love Jesus in new and fresh ways. That they will hold you accountable to not cram your developing faith journey onto the kids in your student ministry, and that you will live more and more into the unique person God has called you to be. All while allowing your students and colleagues to live into the unique person they are called to be.
Even if the terms sound different or my context too foreign from yours, the truth is we need people in our lives to help us go deeper in our love for Jesus and better in how we implement our ministries. Be in prayer about people in your life who could fulfill this role and be intentional in that relationship.
May God truly bless your quest for an ever deepening faith and effective ministry!