Kevin: “So, do you remember who I am?”
My brain: Crap Theresa, come on. Think, you know this kid. What’s his name?
Me: “Dude, I totally remember you. (Awkward side hug) You look so different. How are you?”
Kevin: “Remember, I was at the skate park all the time. I was smaller then. I was like one of the first kids who started coming to Rocketown.”
My brain: I know that. I know you were, but what the hell is your name?
Kevin: “Kevin, my name is Kevin.”
This really happened. How I could forget a kid named Kevin? I have a brother named Kevin. This past year, my former youth group from Florida, came to Colorado to do a work trip/mission to help with some of the flood damage. It was really exciting. It gave me a chance to reconnect with youth leaders and students I worked with for 7 years. It was hard to leave them when my family relocated to Broomfield a few years ago. This reunion was a huge gift. But this happens to me all the time, I run into a group of students, and there’s always one who insist I must know them by name. Why do they do this?
They do it because teenagers want to be known. And they want to be known by name.
So why couldn’t remember Kevin but I could remember Josiah? Josiah was another student on the trip. I loved this kid. There is no way I could ever forget him. During this youth ministry reunion Josiah and I reconnected and talk about his life and future, and well, it was awesome. My moment with Kevin was not so awesome.
The Difference between Kevin and Josiah…
I know what middle school and high school Josiah went to.
I knew his sister and his parents.
Josiah was a student that would approach you and stay by your side during youth group.
Josiah often needed a ride home.
Josiah was always the first one to arrive and the last one to leave.
Josiah went on all the retreats. I knew his name and his story.
Kevin…I have no idea what school he went to.
Never met his parents.
Kevin hung around his friends, not the adults.
Kevin never needed a ride home.
I really couldn’t tell you when Kevin arrived at youth gatherings or when he left.
I don’t remember Kevin being on any of the retreats. I didn’t know his name or his story.
…the difference is, I was more present with Josiah than I was with Kevin.
Some students make it easy to be present, and with others it takes a little more intentionality. This reunion revealed that I haven’t always been as intentional as I should be to be present with every student. Every student deserves youth leaders who are present. We can’t invest more in one student just because he or she goes on more retreats. I remember Josiah, because I was present with him.
I want a do-over. How can we be more present with the Kevin’s in our youth ministry? Here are three simple ways to do just that:
1. Take notice of every student when they enter the room. Maybe 7 out 10 times they walk right by us in a hurry to find their friends, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be recognized by their youth leaders. The very student, who passes us on their way to their friends, is wondering if we even know their name.
2. Take interest in the student who has friends. Kevin was an extravert and a very social kid. With extraverts it’s easy to assume they don’t need our presence when they are usually surrounded by their peers. When we make assumptions like this, we could miss a deeper need for presence in a student’s life.
3. Let’s know our students. If you lead a youth ministry with less than 20 students, consider it a blessing for now. It may be easier to know who is in the room and who isn’t in the room. If you lead a ministry of 20 plus, it may take extra effort to know who is in the room. The more students we have in our ministry the easier it is to become disconnected. A student might be involved for years without a youth leader having a significant presence in their life. They might enjoy the experience of youth group, but they are missing the mentoring and discipleship that comes when we are truly engaged and present in a student’s life.
And isn’t this what we are called to? We aren’t called only to teach in a group setting, or only to lead games, or only to order pizza.
We are called to be present…so present in the life of students that God and his outrageous love might capture them eternally.