At a recent district youth gathering, the master of ceremonies was doing some community building and tried to find the youngest person in attendance. It turned out to be a three-month-old baby attending with her youth worker mother. The baby got the prize for youngest participant; a Frisbee, I believe.
The master of ceremonies then asked for the oldest person. What he thought he was going to get was some embarrassed 50-something Baby Boomer type who would rather not admit to his age. What he ended up getting was a lesson in relying too heavily upon stereotypes.
The oldest person at the gathering was an 82-year-old woman who absolutely loved teenagers and whose teenagers absolutely loved her. The woman and the youth cared about each other. They loved to talk with each other and compare notes about being a teenager today vs. being a teenager more than 60 years ago. The woman didn’t mind staying up to the wee hours of the morning and had been known to survive over night lock-ins. “The older I get, the less sleep I seem to need,” she said. Sometimes the teens would ask her why she seemed to understand them so well when their own parents seemed so indifferent. Her response was, “We have the same common enemy – the generation between us.”
There is always a tendency to assume that some folks will make good youth workers while others wouldn’t give a youth the time of day. Lots of people think young adults are the best candidates for the job largely because they were just recently teens themselves. In truth, sometimes those young adults are too much in the throes of establishing themselves as adults to effectively work with teens.
Some would never think an older adult would make a good youth worker. How would they ever be able to survive an overnight camping trip, especially if they had to sleep on the ground? That really should be the older adult’s decision. When I was a boy scout, I had an 85-year-old scout leader who thought nothing of spending a weekend in a tent camping.
Bottom line: when it comes to recruiting volunteers, beware of assumptions and stereotypes. Instead of looking automatically to age, a good set of criteria to follow for recruiting an adult might be the following: (1) He or she loves Jesus first and with his or her entire heart and (2) he or she loves teenagers. If those two things are in place, everything else may pretty much come naturally.
Thanks be to God for all the wonderful adult volunteers from 20-100 who love God and love teens! We could never do youth ministry without them.