In our home it is fall, and fall means that it is time for Fall Ball. This is an informal baseball season for kids who want to develop their skills as baseball players and prepare for the spring.
Last night I dropped my son off at his first Fall Ball practice of the year. As parents and kids began to gather, the coach took it upon himself to share with all of us his background, coaching history and his philosophy for coaching our kids for this season. And as he spoke I realized that there were a couple of takeaways that we as youth workers should probably pay attention to.
1) This is not the big leagues! Fall Ball is a practice season, it is designed for kids to develop skills, try out new positions, and build their confidence as baseball players. The coach acknowledged that this season will feel quite different from the spring, which is much more competitive. But even in the spring, it is still little league. These kids are not professionals, and truthfully most will not be. So there doesn't need to be the soul-crushing shame, the red line in the sand for failures, or the over-inflated expectations that major league players who are paid millions of dollars have to wrestle with.
In the same way, youth group is not the big leagues. Our students are trying on many identities, including Christianity. They will succeed and they will fail. But because they aren't in adulthood quite yet, the consequences of their actions, both good and bad have more grace and ability to bounce back. We as their "coach" don't need to get too hopped up on them, shame them, scare them, or over inflate their abilities and faith.
2) A good coach helps kids love the game and stick around for another season. The best coaches my son has had for baseball are the ones who get this philosophy. There are a lot of years between little league and the major leagues. To expect kids to have the same love, determination, discipline, and maturity of those who are professional athletes is an impossible bar to meet. But you would be surprised by a number of coaches who expect that level from their kids, only to end up burning them out and crushing their spirits. The best coaches know exactly where their kids are developmentally and meet them where they are at, then teach them the skills and give them the vision to take their game to the next level.
In the same way, the goal of youth group is to help our students love Jesus, love the church, and do whatever we can to get them to stick around another season. Think how different our approach would be if we simply recognized where our students were developmentally and truly understood that we are simply one adult in a long line of other adults who are going to help our kids get to the big leauges in their faith. When we have that vision and humility, we are able to truly relax and enjoy our students and enjoy the messy and long process it is for them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. (Which, for the most part, will take much longer than age 18)
Like my son's Fall Ball coach, maybe we should all remember what we are called to do. The best coaches love the game, coach because they want to share their passion for the game with kids, work hard to develop skills and a vision of what the game could be, and work hard to help them stick around for another year! In the same way, maybe we should do the same!
May we be so in love with Jesus and the church that we can't help but share that passion with the kids that God has put in our lives and ministry. And may we be mature enough so we can be motivated by the long-term care of our students, not the short term wins that feed our egos. And finally, may we do whatever it takes to make Jesus and the church viable options for them for another year and hopefully all the way into adulthood.