Being the Person I Need to Be

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Alex Ruzanic

I am convinced that we often don’t live into the life we were meant to live. I don’t live into the life that I am designed to live. I need to work on and be faithful to becoming the best version of myself that I can be. 

I recently read a few books that have transformed my thoughts of who I am and how to minister to the students I work with. The first book was When Helping Hurts. I read this book a while ago but reread it to teach it to our youth and adults during a small group. It challenges us to attempt to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor. So much of what I used to do in youth ministry was just that. I was hurting kids (the book talks about the poor, but it works when I think of all teenagers). I wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone; but what I realized is that I was allowing programming to get in the way of relationships. I was focusing on youth programming and not thinking about how youth might be integrated into the life of the church. I came up with games, skits, profound talks (in my humble opinion) and teachings, incredible and outlandish fun times together that ended up getting in the way of building transformational relationships. Yes, we had fun and enjoyed the events; and these events are, at some level, transformational, because they build a foundation. But I was missing something. I realized that programming doesn’t change lives. Games, fun, and skits didn’t allow youth to begin the process of “becoming who they should be.” 

I do believe that one of the core values a youth worker should have is to help youth to develop into the “best version of themselves.” I needed to be invested in the youth in personal ways. Yes, I did go to the schools, visit after school games, plays, musicals, sporting events…so much of what I did was about building relationships. What I was missing was that I didn’t always understand the specific needs they had and more importantly what their dreams and passions were.  I was so busy programming and fixing (that sounds horrible, but I think we all do this) kids’ lives that I missed the point of just being present and caring in their lives. I helped to alleviate what was on the surface but failed to get deep and find the root to allow for true transformation. I allowed myself to think that I knew what was best and most important for the youth in my program. 

My realization was, “I am getting paid to develop a team of leaders to hang out with kids and build trust.” Then and only then was I truly able to minister and transform lives, and in turn they can transform their communities. I had been thinking that I was called to change these lives, but I realized that is what God is responsible for. God will change and transform lives. I am called to make myself, the church leadership, the families and parents available to build lasting and transformational relationships. I know we have all heard that youth ministry is incarnational; this is nothing new…but when reaching out I needed to know what the needs of the youth were. So, like any good youth pastor, I spend time trying to understand youth culture (which is a good thing). I thought I knew what the youth needed, but I was wrong. I had to ask the youth what they needed. What did they want, what were their dreams and aspirations? Whatever my youth are passionate about? What did they want to do with their lives? It didn’t matter what I thought they should do, I had to engage them in what they dreamed about.  

It has taken me time to realize I’m off balance in life (read Matthew Kelly’s book, Off Balance). I ask myself now “what is the best version of me that I can be?” and I try very hard to live into that. Conversely I ask myself how I can foster the “best version of the youth that I know.” One of the key things I love to do is to teach other adults how to be available to kids. When I am doing this I encourage leaders to ask the youth “what is the best version of you?” The power and reassurance this enables in lives of young people is incredible. I remember being young and desperately wanting to be known and loved. I desired to have someone ask me what my dreams were. If we know what youth want and desire then we can help them live into those dreams. I have seen more youth get connected to the church because they are living into the best version of themselves. When caring and committed adults spend time with kids, mentoring occurs. The adults share their lives and care for the youth. It is youth ministry at its most basic. We don’t worry as much about programming anymore (though we still program events), but we make it a core value to know our youth and their dreams and passions. 

Here is an example of one such student: I have one youth that went to a trade school to become a welder. He is now welding full time and finds great joy and peace knowing this is what he was meant to do. He loves welding. If I didn’t ask him “what is his best version of himself,” I would have missed this opportunity to encourage him down this path to head to trade school and not college. He is engaged as a young adult in our church with incredible support of other older men and women to pursue his life for God. He leads prayers, comes to Bible study, and is engaged fully in the life of the church.  

So, when you think about what the role of a youth pastor, volunteer, or parent is: it’s simple. How can you bring out the best version of the youth you are called to serve? We need to look at ourselves as missionaries reaching out in loving and caring ways to transform lives by knowing what they want and enabling them to achieve it.