By Mathew McCabe
Youth Workers are my heroes. I know I am a bit biased on this subject but…for real, you are my heroes. The significance of pouring into middle and high school students can’t be overstated. The often messy and difficult job of standing in the gap with students during the most significant developmental stage of their lives has huge implications for them as individuals, the church, and the Kingdom of God. So to those who have ascribed to be part of the high-paying and perk-laden (insert sarcasm here) tribe we call Youth Workers, you are my heroes.
Of course, a hero may need super powers on occasion. One of those super powers is the ability to hear and see beyond and beneath the surface of what you actually hear and what you actually see. You might call it X-Ray Vision.
For instance, how about that time when a parent calls to say that their kid doesn’t want to come to youth group any more because they just don’t feel welcomed and included. You get this call right on the heels of years of work on your part to train an enthusiastic group of students and leaders to be the welcome team. You’ve just spent months casting vision to your group on the importance of welcoming and including all students so your group is a place where everyone can feel like they belong. This call comes after weeks of where the group is crushing it by welcoming and including everyone. They are doing an amazing job. But then the call comes. “My little Johnny says he just doesn’t feel a part of the group,” she tells you, though you have watched multiple students and leaders reach out very intentionally to Johnny over the past several weeks.
In that moment, you need the super power to see beyond the surface of what is being said, and to see what might really be happening behind those words. Maybe Johnny is wandering from his faith. Maybe he’s just angry at his mom. Perhaps his spiritual interest is waning. Maybe Johnny is making some poor decisions and being at youth group makes him feel guilty about those decisions. But Johnny can’t tell his parents those are the reasons, so he picks an easy target. “I’m not welcome there. Nobody says hi to me.” Mom and dad buy it–hook, line and sinker. The next thing you know, (drum roll please) it is all your fault. Use your X-Ray vision and see the truth.
How about this scenario? You have just returned from a weekend retreat with your students. You planned it for an entire year. You did the administration, the recruiting, the shopping, and the driving. Once there, you ate camp food and slept a total seven hours over two nights. Those seven hours were spent on a mattress with the thickness of card stock. You poured out your heart and soul all weekend. You did everything possible to create an environment where your students could meet God in a powerful way; a place where your group comes together through authenticity and honesty. You gave everything you had physically, emotionally and spiritually.
You get home, flop down on the couch, and hit up Instagram to see the encouraging posts from your kids. “It was amazing!” “Best weekend ever!” “I love my youth group!” And then, buried in-between the multitude of posts exclaiming what a great weekend it was, there it is: “Just went on a retreat with my church and it sucked ass. What a waste of time.” (Yes, this is an actual word-for-word post I once received.)
In that moment, you need the super power to see beyond that post. You need the power to not let it steal your joy. You need the power to not respond to that post with “sorry the weekend sucked so bad, I’ll try harder next time.” (I actually almost responded with that until I realized I’m a grown up.) You need super powers to see through the words, and instead see a hurting student who is crying for someone to notice them. In that moment, that student needs a hero. Use your X-Ray vision to see beyond and beneath what they are saying, to see what they really need.
My prayer is that God will grant you, my heroes, the super power to see and hear well beyond the surface of the many things you will see and hear over your years living out your calling to student ministry. I pray this power onto you so that you will stay in the game for the long haul, so you will keep standing in the gap for your students and keep pouring life into them. The world needs more heroes like you. Use your X-Ray vision for their good.