Students don’t need youth workers to be their friends, they need adults who will lead them to God and invest in their lives. Unfortunately, many of us have bought the lie that we need to be ‘friends’ with our students in order to have influence in their lives. Some of us have even allowed our need for acceptance from students to cloud our need to lead them effectively.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love doing youth ministry and I love investing in students. I love spending hours talking with them, laughing with them, and getting to know their heart. But I do this as someone who is leading them and is invested in their lives as their pastor and youth leader... not their friend…
Besides, students don’t see us as their friends. They see us in a distinct role as youth leader, youth director, youth pastor, (or whatever your title is). Even though we might try to gain acceptance as their friend, they will never see us that way, so why keep trying? God has called us to be their leaders. They already have a bunch of friends, why would they need more?
Over the years, here are some observations I have made when I see youth leaders trying to be a friend instead of a leader.
A friend to students can easily get caught up in popularity of students but unknowingly take away from the person of Jesus. A leader to students will do everything they can to point them to Jesus and ensure that He gets the glory. A leader to students also recognizes the need for team and looks to applaud fellow youth leaders
A friend to students can easily get sucked into unhealthy need for acceptance by students. When a student rejects that leader, it can feel devastating. Whereas a leader to students feels totally accepted by God and is focused on helping students discover the same acceptance. If we are devastated by a students rejection, we must consider if we are getting sucked into an unhealthy need for acceptance. Unfortunately, I have met many youth leaders who are fueled and ruled by the need for acceptance from their students. This is a very dangerous path to walk down.
A friend to students will often hold back from challenging poor decisions a student is making. A leader to students is concerned about speaking truth in love in order to see long-term change, even if it means disgruntling a student in the short-term. As leaders, if we are challenging students to pursue healthier ways, we should expect students to push back or get frustrated with us from time to time.
A friend to students will often stay on the shallower end of spiritual conversations. A leader to students is fixated on the urgency and need to take students spiritually deep. Sometimes these deeper questions and conversations can feel awkward, but they are imperative. If we are too focused on keeping our ‘friendship’ we can easily lose sight of digging into the deeper and more challenging conversations.
A friend to students can easily act like ‘one of the kids’ and make ridiculous decisions. A leader to students will be create funny and exciting experiences, while also keeping common sense in full view. (If I am honest, this is probably the hardest one for me. My wife reminds me frequently that there are certain lines a dad should not cross when trying to make his own kids laugh…)
A friend to students might be inclined to dress like one of the students and look completely ridiculous… A leader to students knows their age and knows when they look like an old person trying to be young. Fortunately these days there is a lot of cross-over in clothes that students and adults wear, but there are some things you and I should not be wearing. If you are not sure what I mean by this ask your students… Remember they don’t consider you to be their friends, so they will probably be brutally honest with you 🙂
There are probably many more YOU could add to this list, and I would love to hear them. Feel free to comment below and share how being a friend rather than a leader has caused you challenges in your ministry?