Monday, March 23, 2009

Not sure

I'm not sure what to do about some stuff. I don't know, I know I let things people say bug me more than I should, I tend to interpret tossed-off comments as slams or criticisms.

This has to do with the Youth Group. We (finally) had a decent-sized group last night. But there is this one girl. She is very pushy and opinionated. And I dislike dealing with pushy and opinionated people.

She started talking about all these things that would be "great" - stuff she had seen in other church's youth groups (and I hasten to add - other youth groups that have four times as many attendees, plus a full-time youth pastor whose paid job it is to shepherd these kids and plan activities).

I have me, plus my co-leader, plus the occasional help of one other person. None of us are paid. We don't even really have a budget anymore; if I want to do anything snazzy I need to buy the stuff out of my own pocket.

But here's this girl - who, incidentally, hasn't attended for the past 2 months - telling me how we need to have rocket-building contests and send cards weekly to people and stuff like that.

Part of it was, she used my Least Favorite Phrase Ever: "You need to."

No, honey, I don't NEED to. You WANT me to. There's a difference. I NEED to breathe. I NEED to eat nutritious food. I NEED to sleep. I NEED to do my paid job so I continue to have income so I can pay for food and the roof I sleep under and clothes to keep me warm.

Other than that, I don't NEED to do a whole lot.

She also talked about the "peer counselor" idea - about how it would be "cool" if some of the "older kids" (meaning: her) had "input" on the lesson plans (for Heaven's sake, I'm sometimes planning my Youth lesson at 1 pm on the Sunday I am to give it) and how they could "counsel" the younger kids with their problems.

And I'm sitting there, looking at her, going, honey, you have NO idea. No idea at all.

This is my big frustration. I'm dealing with a generation raised to expect dancing ducks and Powerpoint animations and loud music and craziness. And that's just not me. My style is much more quiet, more sit-them-down-and-talk-with-them. More "turn off your cell phone and listen to the person next to you."

Part of the problem - and the conflict I'm feeling - is that while I don't WANT to give up "control" to the point of allowing the chaos I've seen in some other youth programs - and while I don't WANT to vet my lessons past a group of "peer counselors" who could then say, "That's boring; do something else" and I'm faced with a couple more hours of work with no help - I wonder if maybe I SHOULD.

I kept hearing - and maybe it's me - under her words the implication that "I find this boring and want it to change. I want to change it."

But the thing is this, and this is what stays my hand - I've had some minor successes. There's one kid - who describes himself, as much as I wince at it and tell him not to say it, as being in the "retard" class at school - who has grown so much. He asks such good questions. He has such interesting viewpoints. He GETS it on a level some of the supposedly "smarter" kids don't.

And I get the feeling that it's the structure and the quiet and the calmness that this kid responds to - that if he were dropped in a more distraction-filled space, he'd be lost, he'd be run over by the louder pushier kids (like he is, apparently, at school).

So I don't know. Until last night I was fairly content with my quiet little C.S. Lewis-esque way of doing things - keeping it low key, letting the kids talk, not being afraid of silences. But now I get someone saying we need MUSIC! and we need GAMES! and we need stuff to GRAB THEM AND DRAW THEM IN!

And I just don't know. I wonder, honestly, how much of my resistance to that is "my stuff" - I've been doing this with pretty much the only help coming from my co-leader for four and a half years now. I've lived through some very serious criticisms of the program; I've dealt with bad situations. I rarely hear words of praise for what I'm trying to do - though I don't mind that so much, I realize that we're kind of invisible to a lot of the adults in church; we meet at a time when most of them are not around. And at any rate, praise from others is not why I'm doing this.

But I feel like - I've built this up largely from nothing. I started in after the church split doing this, thinking I'd do it for a few months and then hand it over to someone "better equipped" than I. And here I am, still. Apparently my co-leader and I are the only ones who "can" do this, or, more likely, the only ones willing to put up with the complaints about marks from rubber-soled shoes on the Fellowship Hall tiles, or the complaints about spilled soft drinks (we MAKE them clean them up but they don't always get every drop, and besides, we do have a custodian), or the complaints about the kids being noisy. I feel like I've weathered all that stuff, and finally the worst of the complaints have died down, just to be attacked from "within" as it were.

And also, the idea of the "peer counselors" concerns me a little. One reason I have a very hard time delegating much responsibility is that I have had no fewer than four different adult "volunteers" crap out on me - they come, all gung ho for a couple weeks, then they realize they don't get paid, and they don't get much thanks, and there are more "interesting" things to do....and they drift away. And they tell me they're sorry but they're "tired," or they have a real busy day at work the next day, or they want to relax in the evenings. And I feel a bit sad because all of those things apply to me, too - and to my co-leader, even MORE. (She has aging parents she is partly responsible for caring for).

I was also at one time promised a college intern, but that fell through.

So I'm not sure about giving tons of responsibility - especially something like "peer counseling" - to someone whose attendance has been spotty.

(I'm also not sure whether a person can call themselves a "peer counselor" with no training. And if I had to send them for training - well, again, that would probably be out of my own pocket).

I don't know. It's hard. I get tired of it sometimes. I will say most weeks I'm surprised and pleased by the response; someone will say something that makes a lot of sense, or someone will ask a good challenging question. But all the administration process of it - if we had money to hire a youth pastor, I'd have absolutely zero complaint about handing over the program. (I don't see that happening any time soon; we are very small, constantly fighting for financial survival, so most things have to be on a volunteer basis).

I've actually reached the point where I've quit asking for volunteers because I've been disappointed so many times. But I don't know...what that girl said keeps eating at me. Is the program small just because we are a small church, or is it small because I'm not doing enough exciting stuff?

And for that matter, should we even HAVE to do "exciting" stuff? I know it's how things work now, but it frustrates me that well-delivered content loses out to toy rocketships. I don't like the idea of surface trappings maybe obscuring what is really important. (And that's really the crux of my concern about how a lot of worship and faith-related things are being done now - there seems to be such an emphasis on slickness and coolness and technology that the idea that there is a Message, one that's been around for some 2000 years, that's far more important than slickness and coolness and technology - in fact, that is so important that trying to "dress it up" to "make it relevant" actually does a disservice to it.)

(Right now I'm reading Eugene Peterson's "Eat this book" where he makes a similar argument - that there are too many people out there seeking to make the Bible "relevant" to their lives, and that they have it exactly backwards - that they should be striving to make their lives relevant to what God wants. Which is maybe why I feel irked by the impression that I need to make things more "interesting" or "slicker.")


Cullen said...

Church youth groups aren't Boy/Girl Scout meetings.

These are mainly young teens, right? These sessions should be where they learn to be a little bit more adult about Biblical study. Maybe something fun every once in a while (monthly? quarterly?).

Gimmicky functions may attract people, but what does that actually teach?

Dave said...

If you can spare the time, maybe a fairly lengthy (an hour or two) one-on-one conversation with the problem girl might make you both feel better. Sounds to me as if she is desperate to feel as if she matters, and that having an authority figure (That's you, Ricki, like it or not) pay attention to her and therefore validate her existence is more important than the ideas she is pushing.

Not being there, I'm merely guessing, of course. It's possible I have just given you an idea even crummier than those proposed by the girl, but I think it's worth a try.

Kate P said...

Being in the library, I feel your pain. . . marginally library-related stuff for the sake of increasing traffic. Plus, it's been only six weeks since I started, and the teen advisory board is threatening to implode from in-fighting. And I'm from the tough love school.

nightfly said...

You can't be all sizzle and no steak. The flash may bring in kids, but if they find no substance they will not remain, and be on their guard in the future to things that would do them good.

It sounds to me like you are doing an effective job countering the whizbang, "louder faster" culture we have now. We all need that space to think and consider and enjoy silence and calm; the sooner the kids learn that, the happier they will be as adults.

That being said, there is a good way you can put Ms. We Need It Now on the spot: tell her that if she wants to try to organize and run any such activity, she's welcome to try. Once she sees how much actual work it is to plan other people's fun, she'll (hopefully) learn a valuable lesson.

I do like Cullen's idea of the occasional hoedown, but both you and he are right: it can't become the only thing the group is about.

(w/v - "cohuser" - the assistant to the huser.)