Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

Thoughts on Youth Ministry, Letting Teens Ask Questions, and “That Kid”

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What if I told you God intends to use him to change the world?

That kid?

Yup. That kid.

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If you are in youth ministry, you know who I’m talking about.

That kid.

The one who doesn’t seem focused. Who derails the discussion with a seemingly off-topic question just when the discussion seems to be flowing well. The one who should know the answers, but doesn’t. It feels like they don’t listen. Oftentimes, it seems like their head is in the clouds. That kid can be incredibly frustrating.

They often don’t listen to the rules. They’re more of a free spirit.

Now, I’m not talking about the kid who is honestly rebellious. There are some kids who genuinely can’t seem to think about anyone but themselves. Everything they do is for them. I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about the kid who also breaks rules, but the leaders generally agree has a “good heart.” He’s often described as having a lot of “potential,” he just needs to (fill in the blank here…get his act together, focus his energy, etc.). Once that happens, the Lord can use him to do great and mighty things for the kingdom.

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Youth Ministries are not geared toward “that kid.” Youth ministry is geared toward the kid I was in high school: a rule follower, who did the prep work beforehand, knew most of the answers off the top of my head, and knew how to look up the ones I didn’t. I excelled in multiple ways, from being a frequent “quality” contributor in group discussions to winning Bible quiz competitions.

There were several of “those kids.” They bugged the heck out of me.

Now on the other side of college, having gone through some faith deconstructing and re-constructing, I wonder if I’ve inadvertently become one of those kids. I find myself wanting to look at everything upside-down and backwards before coming to any conclusions. I find myself constantly asking questions. I’m still not truly a free-spirit. My inner rule-follower is still alive.

But I’m fascinated by the free-spirited teens I meet as I am blessed to be involved in youth ministry.

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What if God plans to use that kid–without him getting his act together, without him learning to focus, without him doing whatever it is that you would say needs to happen before God can use him?

What if God plans to use the exact traits in this kid that bug you so to further the kingdom?

What if his free spirit, his constant need to ask questions, his way of thinking that makes his head seem like its up in the clouds–what if those are what God uses? What if his questions actually lead people to see the glory of God? What if his free spirit allows him to see God outside the proverbial box?

Of course he will mature, just like any other teen. But maybe, just maybe, it won’t be in the way you think.

How would that thought change the way you do ministry with this kid? What if you saw his questions as opportunities to discover God together, and not as a distraction from your outline? What if you were open and honest about your confusion? What if you gave the kid a chance and said, “I’m not sure how you got to that question from where we were in the discussion. Would you mind explaining your thought process?” Maybe they were distracted, and will quickly realize that. But maybe they will have seen something that you didn’t.

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I will admit that I have a difficult time with pride when it comes to youth ministry work. After four years, it’s easy to think that I’ve got it figured out and that everyone else is doing it wrong. It’s easy to cringe when I see another question stifled instead of engaged. It’s easy to say that others can’t see what I see in that kid.

I have to constantly remind myself that even though I don’t agree with some people’s approach to youth ministry, that maybe, just maybe, God intends to use them.

And not after they start asking more questions, or develop more of a free spirit.

Perhaps it is their contentment with the simple answers and their ability to be easily edified that God will use, even when I would see it as a hindrance instead of an asset.

God will use them now, not after they become more like I want them to be.

Just like God is going to use that kid.

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