Two weeks ago I turned 31. Last weekend I helped co-ordinate and run a youth retreat. Yes, at 31 weeks pregnant with a toddler in tow. And I realized, not for the first time in the last couple of years, that your cool factor just goes way down when you are 1) old, 2) a mom and 3) pregnant.
My first sign of this was when I arrived on the grounds of the retreat. As I was getting out of my car, a guy and a girl came running out of the main lodge. The guy was chasing the girl with a hand full of snow.
I turned to my fellow leader and asked, "Some of the kids are here already?"
He replied, "No, Jill. That's the band. Those are the Bible college students."
I said "Really?"
And he responded, "That's right. We're adults now."
I think I said something like, "Oh my goodness. How did that happen?"
Let me explain a little bit further. When I was younger, I was the cool leader. The one that all the kids were excited about seeing. The one who stayed up talking with the kids in her cabing until 2 am and kept the other kids up. The one everyone wanted to sit with. The one girls started dressing a bit like by the end of the weekend / week. The one who kids hovered around just because I was kind of fun and interesting.
Now, I am generally ignored, or politely tolerated until I go away. Kids will answer questions I ask, but generally the answers are more of a "nothing" or "I don't know" quality of answer. I feel old, and out of touch. I was already in highschool when these kids were born. Movies they watched over and over as kids were playing when I was in university. And now that I am a mom and don't get out much, I haven't even seen the movies they are all talking about, or heard the music they are listening to.
So I began to ask myself, last weekend, is there youth ministry after 30? Should I really still be doing this, or is it time to pass the torch onto younger and cooler people? This is a new generation, after all -- they need new leaders who understand them. They need people in their 20's that they can look up to and feel a bond with. They don't need me, who could tell them all about the advantages of wearing babies in a sling or give them half a dozen helpful hints on teething issues, but has nothing interesting to say about what matters to them. They don't need me who comes from a generation so much more disillusioned and frustrated than their own, more hopeful generation. What can I offer to them now?
I really struggled with this last weekend, and have been struggling with it over the last few months as I have taken on a position as a local youth leader. And I had an answer come to me while I was out shovelling snow into piles for my toddler to run through, and the kids were all in the building listening to one of the talks. The answer was a little sentence that popped into my head (this usually means its from God, but I don't like to assume). The short, pertinent message was, "Its not about you; its about them and God".
The fact is that for now, I am still called to work with teenagers. No matter where I go and how I try to escape it, some sort of volunteer or paying position involving teenagers always surfaces. And no matter how long I try to avoid it, no one else shows up to fill the position. But at the same time, I am not called to the exact same role with youth. I am no longer the young, fun youth leader. But I am still someone who can think of interesting and fun things for them to do on and Friday night. I am still someone who can give them spiritual guidance and encouragement. I am still someone who can pray for them and teach them. And I am still someone who is really and truly interested in them and their lives.
For all those reasons, I can still be in youth ministry. It just smarts a bit more, because I have to try harder to build relationships and to get involved in their life. It hurts my pride to no longer be as "cool" as I once was. To no longer be the one they are drawn to immediately. They are more resistant to me initially because I don't fit into their matrix. Some of them will never warm up to me becuase I don't look like someone they would identify as being cool. But doesn't that teach them a good lesson? Simply by still being interested, and by being myself, they see that the world might be bigger than their little boxes. That appearances and first impressions are not always right. And is that not a lesson that our current, media- saturated, looks - concious teens need to learn?
So, yes, there is youth ministry after 30. It just doesn't feed your ego in quite the same way. I guess that makes it servanthood. Which is what its supposed to be.