In chatting recently with a good friend, he opened my eyes to something about my personality that I hadn’t ever really put my finger on–until he smacked me over the head with it. 

He said it quite bluntly: “You can’t be in the boat without steering the boat.”

Blam! The truth dawned on me like the sunrise over the ocean…or perhaps more like a raw egg cracking over my noggin. Either way, it was a startling realization of what kind of leader I am–a strong one. One who leads other leaders naturally.

And, to be honest, a pushy and strong-willed one, one who doesn’t always do so well at taking instruction from others. Guess that’s the part of the egg that’s dripping down my face, right?

It’s not always so easy to figure out who we are, as youth leaders. Whether you’ve been schooled and trained, or if you’re in your first few weeks of volunteering with teenagers, it’s a daunting prospect to nail down who you are as a guide of others.

Youth ministry, in a sense, is a powerful mirror. It’s hard to escape the truth of who we are when we’re attempting to work with teenagers, who watch us and freely comment on the good, bad and ugly of our personalities.

An old saying states that children are the only members of humanity who really tell the truth–and those of us who work with middle schoolers know that it’s most certainly true that young teens don’t filter anything they say. And if you spend much time with them–to the point where they feel even remotely comfortable around you–they’ll tell you exactly what’s on their mind when it comes to you.

With the scrutiny that’s given us by our students, it’s no wonder that they can tell when we’re excited or angry, when something didn’t work out the way we wanted it to and when we’re ready to throttle an obnoxious thirteen-year-old who won’t stop throwing baseballs at the projector.

The fact is that the people around us know us better than we give them credit for. They know what kind of people we are, and what sort of leaders we happen to be. And their remarks about us can certainly serve as a valuable insight into who we truly are. Those truths–when we actually listen to them with thoughtful consideration–can work to propel us, as individuals, to be more self-aware and therefore more thoughtful and effective servants in God’s Kingdom.

Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you get excited about organizing events or would you rather spend your time playing hockey with your youth? Do you lead by example as a servant, or are you one who prefers to inspire others with your passionate words? What drives you batty, what makes you tick and what makes you proud? What are your strengths, and where do you need to improve as a leader? Start listening for the answers to these important questions.

I’ll pick on myself for a moment here. In listening to my students joke about my inability to deal with inefficiency over the years, I’ve realized I have an extremely short fuse when it comes to dealing with things that aren’t well-run. A few months ago, I happened to rent vans for a mission trip and the rental company bungled my carefully placed plans royally. When I realized that they not only screwed up paperwork but also gave me a van without air conditioning to transport my youth from Texas to St. Louis in the middle of a hot, sticky summer–it got ugly.

I’ve had to counteract my own personality by placing leaders around me who are jolly and good-natured, and who roll with the punches easily–precisely because I don’t.

In the case of the steaming-hot rental van, my happy-go-lucky leaders came to the rescue and made the trip fun–even though I was disgusted beyond belief. Instead of my personality ruining the trip, it became a bonding experience (albeit a smelly one).

It’s fascinating to me how human nature so often clouds the beauty of our Savior. I think of it like a lighthouse: we’re the lighthouses, with dirty windows that we stubbornly refuse to clean. Sometimes we don’t even realize how disgusting our windows are, because we’re powerless to reach up and clean them on our own. Sometimes all we can see is the dirt and crooked and crude drawings we’ve etched in the filth.

Christ is the beacon that shines from within those lighthouses. He’s unfailingly bright. He warmly illuminates everything around, shining in the midst of darkness. His light never dims, but shines faithfully. Even though the grime of our dirty windows sometimes conceals His glow, His light continues to zealously illuminate.

And when we finally realize how grimy and gritty our windows are–admitting our filth and allowing ourselves to be cleaned–Christ shines ever more brightly from within.

Knowing that our windows are dirty can be a valuable truth in our lives, as youth leaders. It can help us face the fact that we’re sinful people, full of failure–and that we desperately need a Savior to forgive us and cleanse us.

Of course, listening about what kind of leader you are doesn’t end with just hearing from the people around you. It also means throwing yourself into God’s Word, and listening to the Truth of who you are in Christ through Scripture.

So who are you, according to God? 1 Peter 2:9 tells us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Colossians 3:12 reminds us that we are adored by our Father, saying, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:5, “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”

Psalm 139:14 reminds us that we’re created lovingly: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Listen and learn–from the people around you and from Scripture–about what kind of leader you are. Then take that knowledge and prayerfully apply it to your life.

Pray for the grit and dirt to be wiped off your windows in order that others may see the glorious glow of our Savior through you.

As Matthew 5:16 so beautifully reminds us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”