We’re going to play a quick game to figure out what various jobs have in common. Feel free to grab a few friends and keep score if you need to make it a competition. For the record, the game is full contact and win by two, just like most good things in life. Here we go:

  1. Who has been a doctor, accountant, taxi driver, maid, tutor, chef, and coach all at the same time?
  2. Round two: name someone who has been a cowboy, astronaut, mail carrier, immigrant, soldier, train conductor, detective, and captain.
  3. For two points: this person has been a pilot, war hero, father, amputee, diplomat, and engineer. For only one point: he’s also the Dark Lord of the Sith.
  4. This individual is a scientist, astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and the inventor of the Fig Newton.
  5. This is someone who is a counselor, coach, party planner, communicator, teacher, event coordinator, and a card-carrying member of the National Side-Hug Association.

Ready for the answers? In order: a mom or dad, Tom Hanks, Darth Vader, Sir Isaac Newton (minus two points if you thought he actually invented the Fig Newton), and a youth worker. For those of us who are youth workers, that last list is not surprising at all. I remember being told by numerous mentors, professors and peers that working with youth is a job that requires a varying skill set and a ton of flexibility. In fact, the ability to use a large variety of skills is one of the factors that initially drew me to being a church worker. But with all the various roles and jobs that I thought were involved in being a youth worker, one that wasn’t on my list was “librarian.” The more I’ve gotten into working with youth and their families, the more I’m seeing that not only does this belong on the list, but is actually one of the most prominent roles there.

Since I decided to switch into a church worker program back in my freshman year of college, I’ve thought of that position as being focused on teaching, leading, planning and organizing. The key in all of those is that I was the primary leader, the upfront person and the one driving ideas into fruition. As much as I love being able to use some of those gifts, over the past few months I’ve really found that my primary job needs to be more of a librarian than a teacher. At the risk of oversimplification, I see teachers as the upfront leaders, the ones with the knowledge to share and stand-ins for the parents in their subject area. The parents support the teacher (or at least are supposed to) in their job, but the primary responsibility is given to the teacher. While there are definitely still elements of those teaching roles in working with youth, I want to be more of a librarian who equips others to be the primary leaders, shares resources to help them in reaching their goals and tells people to quiet down if they’re being too loud. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t as relevant, but I think there’s a big shift in seeing my role as librarian increasing while my role as teacher decreases into really a substitute teacher role. As a sub, your job is to reinforce what is being taught by the regular teacher and to hopefully not break anything. As workers in the church, our job is to be reinforcing what is being taught in the home by the primary teachers, the parents. In cases where there aren’t any primary teachers at home, then we step in more as teachers, mentors and coaches but that is the exception, not the rule.

So what does it look like to shift into being more of a resource librarian and substitute teacher as a youth worker? I am looking at three changes in the way I do my job, and hope they can be of use to you as well.

  1. Support the parents as well as their children. This is different than the way we support youth. For example, I’m probably not going to their different events like I do for their kids. Although it would be great being the “hype guy” for an open house to support a realtor parent. I can imagine just following them around the house tour yelling things like “this house comes with…..DOORS!!!!!!” and giving out overly aggressive high-fives. As memorable as that would be, supporting parents looks more like checking in with them just like we do the youth. Asking parents for prayer requests. Checking in and seeing if there’s anything they could use some resources, training or support with. Talking with them at church and other functions, instead of just their kids.
  2. Provide resources to parents about raising their children in the faith. This can look like organizing a resource library that covers all sorts of topics that today’s families are dealing with. For example, I’m looking at creating some “Family Guide to…” packets that will give examples and directions for faith-building practices like prayer, family devotions and worship. Or it could look like teaching a Bible class specifically targeting the parents and equipping them to apply God’s Word in their homes. This could mean creating resources of your own for the parents to follow up on what you’ve been talking about with the youth. It’s not just about having these resources available, but about actually giving them to the families as they need it.
  3. Regularly tell parents about great things their kids are doing. What an opportunity we have here! Send short texts or e-mails to a few parents after each youth gathering or event that highlight a way their child used their gifts, served someone else, contributed to the discussion or showed some leadership. After a mission trip or servant event, write a letter to each family outlining ways that their child grew on the trip and some of the great memories you shared. This is an investment of time, but will reap great rewards in helping the parents see that what they’re doing is making a difference. One of the best ways to be a resource to families is to let them know that they’re actually making an impact.

Shifting into being a resource for parents rather than a replacement for them is a big, but important, step in having long-term impact on youth. I pray that we may push this role into the forefront in the churches that we work in. Even though we may get a lot less of the credit and accolades that we get from being the worker that “does it all,” by doing more behind the scenes work and equipping of others, we are helping to not only build ministries that will outlast us, but families that are living out their God-given callings. That discipleship will continue long after the child has graduated high school, which is our end goal in youth ministry. Praise be to God for this amazing opportunity!