Thank you, youth leaders

Many years ago, as a young youth leader, I was surprised by some of the conversations I had with the parents of the youth group kids.

In particular, I remember when a father of a year nine boy approached me to try and help him improve his relationship with his son.

The father wanted to know about how his son was going in some specific areas of his life, and he asked me to try and encourage his son to improve in his behaviour in a couple of ways.

At the time, I felt a mixture of confusion and surprise.

Here I was, a young bloke in his twenties, being approached by a man in his forties to try and help him parent his child.

I remember thinking, “what is wrong with this dad that he’d need to approach a youth group leader like me to help him relate to his teenage boy?”

Fast-forward from youth leader to parent

Twenty years later, things are much clearer for me.

Now, with teenage children of my own, I have a fresh appreciation for the ministry and service of the youth leaders in our churches.

I am thankful to God for the healthy relationship I enjoy with my two teenage girls, but still, I recognise that the youth leaders have an important and appropriate place in the life of my kids.

For, even though I feel I can talk to my girls about pretty much anything, I know that they need to learn how to become individuals of their own—adults in their own right.

This requires them to move away from dependence on their parents towards independence upon themselves.

The normal process of individuation

This process is known as ‘individuation’ and it is a normal part of growing up.

At this time, the adolescents stop and sort out their every value and belief, almost like tipping the contents of their schoolbags out on a table.

Some things they keep; some things they discard… but whatever remains does so by their own conscious decision.

At this tricky time of their life they recognise the need to consult other adults than their own parents.

After all, the only way in which they could get an objective view of life outside the nest is to get the wisdom of people other than their mother and father.

The valuable role of youth leaders

And this is where youth leaders are such a gift to Christian parents.

After all, given that my kids will choose to get unbiased, independent advice from other grownups, I’d much prefer that they get that from keen-Christian adult leaders, rather than the voice of the mass media and other non-Christian influences.

For, when the youth leaders disciple the teenagers with the word of God and prayer, then the teenagers are shown the path of wise living from others who have gone before them, and who continue to travel that road.

Twenty years later, I’m now the parent who knows that the youth leaders have a special, privileged connection with my teenage kids.

And knowing how much those leaders love and care for my teenagers with the love of Christ, I am profoundly thankful to them and every other youth leader, for having such an important and life-changing influence on my and other parents’ children.

Thank you, youth leaders!


Jodie McNeill writes for Fervr and Growing Faith as part of the team at Youthworks.

Jodie is the Senior Minister at Oak Flats Anglican Church

Comments (3)

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  • Mark Baines
    May 22, 12 - 12:44pm
    Thanks for this, Jodie.

    I think you've identified a really important aspect of YM, and I like you have been really blown away by how much parents are grateful for another adult having a loving impact on raising their children to maturity. And that's true of non-Christian parents as much as Christians. Like you, it's been since becoming a parent myself that I've learned how lost and inadequate parents often feel when it comes to raising their kids.

    I'd just make a suggestion. When it comes to examining their beliefs, I think the idea that "every value and belief" is examined at this time, and that "whatever remains does so by their own conscious decision" is not quite accurate. I continue to be amazed as a 30+ year old at how many of my parents values, which I had never considered or examined, I have retained into adulthood.

    I think this is significant to note, because it testifies to the influence parents continue to have, for good or ill, in setting the path for their children. Otherwise, it can seem that a parent will have no effect on their children's character and identity, that ultimately those things are just up for grabs,and the foundation laid in early childhood is meaningless once they hit adolescence. I worry this could compound the feeling of helplessness that parents often feel.
  • Philip Griffin
    May 22, 12 - 12:52pm
    What a helpful comment Mark; I was going to make the same point, but I think you have made it so clearly and well.
  • Jodie McNeill
    May 22, 12 - 8:27pm
    Thanks, Mark, for your helpful comments.

    Yes, I agree that at the time of the youths examining and sorting out their beliefs, this process will be greatly impacted by the values they have absorbed from their parents, almost by osmosis. Many of these values will be so potent that they will have a major impact on the choices the youths make. Those values, and indeed their upbringing by the Fathers in the teaching and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6) will have lasting impact.

    However, that is not to be diminished by the major impact the youth leaders and other adults have in affirming those values and emphasizing them, as you note.

    Secondly, on reflection, I didn't really make any explicit reference to the sovereign work of God in sustaining children in their faith through adolescence, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives our our teenagers. we can be very thankful to God that even the forces of adolescence are no match to his powers!