“Just be yourself. They’ll love you.” This is common advice given to individuals as they head into an interview or audition, and is at least much more practical than “break a leg” or something dangerous like that. It is not only common advice, but also a fairly good piece to listen to. As humans, we seem to have the innate ability to tell when others are being fake and trying to act like someone else. Authenticity is one of the qualities that today’s youth really look for in leaders and adults. The “fake it ‘til you make it” idea just doesn’t seem to be working well anymore, and I would argue that this is a good thing.

This whole topic is something I’ve been thinking about due to a recent conversation I had with a few members following an adult Bible study that I taught. I had the opportunity to teach that group a few months earlier, just as a one-week substitute for the normal teacher. That week I was teaching a very intellectual chapter out of a book that wasn’t really my style. A couple came up to me after this most recent class and told me that they were hesitant to come to this one because they were worried it was going to be boring, like that time I taught a few months ago. But they wanted to tell me that they’re really enjoying this class and they are getting a lot out of it. They had been talking with each other and trying to figure out why they liked this one so much better, and what they came up with I thought was really insightful. They said, “The other one wasn’t your class, your curriculum or your style and it just wasn’t you. This one is your class, your style and where you’re in your element and it really shows. We love being in pastor’s class, and we also like being in your class now, too, even though you teach it differently.”

I really appreciate the insight this couple had into the ministry. I serve on a staff with two extremely gifted and caring pastors. We work well together as a team, but our styles are different. I’m glad I am not forced to be just like the pastors, or for them to be just like me, because we work best when we are being ourselves and using our gifts, rather than trying to imitate someone else’s gifts.

This is helpful for myself in ministry, and I hope it is useful insight for all youth workers as we think about team ministry. But I hope we also look at this idea in light of our volunteers. How many youth helpers are daunted by the task of leading in an area of youth ministry because they know they can’t do it like you do it? I’d venture to say that number is very high in most of our situations, and one of the big reasons why we struggle to activate others in ministry. “I can never do what you do” is a common excuse given, but is really based on a false assumption. Adult and student leaders do not have to do what you do exactly. They bring their gifts, their style and their ideas to their leadership, and should be encouraged to make things their own. When youth see leaders being themselves and using their gifts, even when they struggle with it at times, it will be much more meaningful than seeing leaders being poor imitations of you and your style. Encourage your volunteers and youth to be themselves as they lead and serve. Instead of worrying about if they’re imitating you, enable them to focus on imitating Jesus and sharing His love with others, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”