There are lots of things you can do with your youth or children’s group. I mean, LOADS of things. But, do you spend as much time and effort considering what to be?
No resource, curriculum, activity, programme, theme or visit will bear as much fruit as being these five things:
Be Observant. What do you see? When you open the doors and your kids or youth pile in . . . what do you see?
When those doors fly open, perhaps the only thought in our minds is the first activity, getting the evening going, creating excitement and an atmosphere that sets things up for a great evening . . . but, whilst you do this – have a look round. What is going on for the individual kids or young people coming through the door, are they looking up for it? Tired? Worried? Sad? Angry? Relieved? Joyful? Happy?
When we do an activity are we also paying attention (especially with upfront speaking) – are people watching and listening? Are they on the edge of their seats? Switched off? Disengaged? Distracted?
Be Prayerful. Hopefully, we are praying regularly for the children and young people we work with – but, do you also pray for them during your time with them? Do you pray round your venue? Do you encourage your team to be prayerful?
When we pray – even as we are bringing others before the Lord – maybe asking for His peace, His presence in their lives. Maybe asking for open hearts as we share something of God’s love. Spiritually, something else happens – our own spiritual awareness is stirred, our sense of what God is doing can be heightened. I have also found that when I pray – most especially for “that” young person who messes about or irritates me or – lets be honest – I just find hard to like. I have found that when I pray for them, I begin to love them. I begin to see – in just a small way perhaps – the person that Jesus sees. Before your session with your group remember to pray. When your session is done pray. As important, during your session pray. Seek to practice the presence of God, seek to be His hands and feet and voice.
Be listening. I’m used to speaking. I’m used to speaking a lot. I have things to say, things to impart, things that must be heard! Whether you are leading a session or part of the team for your kids or youth group – it is so much more important to be listening than it is to be speaking!
I have even found myself simply waiting for a young person to finish speaking (because my wisdom is about to pour forth) that, to my shame, I have no idea what they have said. I wasn’t listening. Listening is about giving our full attention to the other person. Listening is about being fully present to them. Listening is one of the most empowering and enabling things we can do for the children and young people we are working with.
We will never fully know our young people if we do not listen to them. What are their hopes? Dreams? Expectations? Worries? Fears? Delights? What is burning within their hearts to share? What might we miss that God is saying through them because we are not listening?
When we truly listen we are telling our young people they matter. When we simply can’t wait to open our mouths and say something else – we disregard what they say, who they are and what they bring.
Be silent. This sounds similar to listening – but sometimes it is more than being quiet whilst someone is talking. It is more profound than that. There are times when there is nothing to be added, said, contributed verbally to what has gone before.
The classic example for me is in worship. Whether that is sung praise, sacramental worship or engaged in some other activity where the focus is Jesus. I can remember (quite often) singing a song with the lines, “let me words be few . . . “, only for the song to be finished and rather than be still, being present in that moment to our creator, sit in awe; someone rushes in with words to fill the silence.
I love this verse in Exodus. Sometimes we can add nothing, contribute nothing, change nothing. This can appear to be a passive phrase, “be still” – but, if you look at the Hebrew it is so much more than that!
This “be still” literally means “keep your peace!” Sometimes we need to stop ourselves, bite our tongue, keep silent. Either we leap in like some know it all and bring a “word of wisdom” (that often is not a word – more like an essay, and often lacks wisdom, love and grace) or – feeling that we must know an answer or have something to contribute – we ramble on incoherently.
Silence can actually be golden. We can trust the Lord in the midst of our not knowing. Sometimes a young person just wants us to know what is going on, to share their journey – to spiritually walk with them in companionable silence.
The kind of silence that is only ok if you actually know each other.
Do we know our young people enough to have those precious moments of silence? Those times when we know words will rob us of that space, that time, that sense of God’s presence in the middle of what we cannot put in to words?
Be patient. Argh. Hardest of all (In my opinion and experience). If I am working with a group of children or young people I want to see progress now. I don’t want to wait, I don’t want someone else to reap where I have sown for years (I’m being honest, I want to see the fruit!)
Thing is, we won’t get there any quicker by rushing it – we might just make a mess instead!
This quote is about nurture. It is also a reminder (as with being silent) that ultimately we are joining in with what God is doing . . . not making something happen through our efforts. The more I “do” the more likely these young people will grow and discover who God is . . . nope, faith and growth and encounter does not happen like that.
Each child, young person, team member we work with is (like us) a “work in progress” – but ALL at different stages and places! Over on my twitter feed I have a pinned tweet at the top of my profile, its simply this,
“You have the youth group you have – not always the one you wish you had – bless them, love them, believe in them, pray for them!”
Just like waiting for an egg to hatch, I have learnt the hard wait that you can’t force it. You can’t force it with a group and you can’t force it with individuals. Patience is about being consistent, being constant, pursuing young people (in a good way) so that – whatever their behaviour, attitude, response to Jesus – they know they are loved and valued. Man, does this take patience. The need for patience is one of the main reasons why I struggle to understand how some churches hope to make a difference when they “experiment” for a short while with investing in youth work . . . and then, when they don’t see immediate results they pack it in.
There is, however, another aspect to patience.
Are you patient with yourself? I know we make mistakes and get it wrong – frequently even! Yet, we can struggle to forgive ourselves. “How”, we might ask, “Am I supposed to share the life of God, the gospel with these young people – if I am not where I should be as a follower of Jesus myself!”
It might well be that when we “loose it” with our kids group or youth group we are seeing them exhibit behaviour or attitude that we continue to wrestle with – we are as frustrated, perhaps, with ourselves!
We need to patient with who we are, where we are, how we are. We need to trust that God’s grace is sufficient for us. That God is far from finished with us – practicing patience with ourselves, reminding ourselves often of how Jesus sees us – brings peace.
This peace through patience makes us better children’s and youth workers – not rushing to “do” stuff that makes a difference, but seeking to be different in the way we do those things. Be patient.
Whatever you take from this article – get your “Be” in balance with your “Do”.