For over 20 years I’ve been working with teens in one capacity or another. Sometimes as my main job and other times as a volunteer, most of the time it’s been a mix of both. I’ve seen people who worked with teens who were very good at it and those who had no idea what they were doing. I get asked a lot how to do it, how to have a strong teen program, how to engage teens, and how to make them want to be a part of something. I always give lots of answers, usually the best answer is that you have to have the right person doing it. It really doesn’t matter if they know everything about it or nothing, I’ll say that if they care about teenagers it will be the right person. However, the honest truth is I have no idea. I don’t know why teens are drawn to me or why I’m good at working with them or how to replicate any of the programs that we have accomplished over the years. All I know is working with the teens is what I’m called to do. I didn’t work as a youth pastor so I could become a pastor, I didn’t work as a teen director so I could become an executive director. I worked with teens because it was what I was good at, what I was passionate about, and sometimes just because people let me.
But here is something I have learned, and it’s probably something you have heard before but I’ll reinforce it. Every teen is different but also exactly the same, they all have the same basic needs of love and understanding but you may have to show it in radically different ways from one to another. I hate this new “snowflake” expression where it’s now an insult to be called a snowflake. What a sad word to rob from our lexicon, snowflake should never be used as an insult. We are snowflakes, I know I am, and so is every teen I’ve ever worked with. We are different, and we are fragile. Being a teenager is hard, isolating, it can even be desperate at times. It doesn’t matter if you have the greatest home situation or the worst it’s still always hard. I have laughed with and cried with more teens than I will ever remember. I have seen the happiest days of teens lives and their worst. I have worked with honor students and parolees, scholars and dropouts, and everything in between. I’ve just been there, sometimes awkwardly but still been there, sometimes with hugs and sometimes in the distance. So how do you work with teens? Two words really sum it up, show up.
In less than 80 days our new home will be Africa and we will be working with teenagers from all over the world in Nairobi and I don’t expect things will be radically different. I mean we may be doing different things, we may be doing them a different way but I know as long as we are showing up in the lives of teens, God will do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.