What If Kids Don’t Think I’m Awesome?
by Joel Williamson
Confession: After 16 years of youth ministry, I still get nauseous when I walk into a school cafeteria, and not because of the mystery meat. (Or at least, not only because of the mystery meat.) Am I cool enough? Will they talk to me? Will they reject me and shut me down?
Rejected and Shutdown
Not that its enjoyable to share, but despite a successful ministry, I have been rejected quite regularly by kids. Sitting at a lunch table, I have seen kids get up and move to another table. I had a kid cancel our long-standing mentoring relationship because I didn’t like his favorite super hero. I even once had some girls legitimately accuse me of passing out drug-laced donuts at their school!
So what do we do? How do we get past it when a kid rejects us, and how do we get the influence in their lives to share the Gospel?
The Obvious Answer – But it Needs to be Said.
First, and always, we need to ask Jesus for help! I know, that’s the “Sunday-school answer,” right? But seriously, if you have access to the most powerful Being in the whole world Who literally knows the number of hairs on a student’s head – isn’t it worth asking Him for help?
Regardless of how much I want that kid to know Jesus or to see their life transformed, God wants it even more passionately. It is incredible to see how prayer changes circumstances, situations, and hearts to make the impossible happen.
Pray. It is truly where the magic happens.
Get Your Head Out of Your…Head!
Stop thinking about you so much! Imagine what it looks like from the kids’ perspective. “Who is that creepy guy passing out donuts at our school?” We have heard about “stranger danger” since we were young! Yet, there I am, the “creepy guy,” showing up at the school, offering out free donuts, and trying to make conversation. Of course some of the kids walk the other way!
The world isn’t only what I see out of my eyes and in my head. It looks different from other angles and other people’s feelings.
If we change our perspective, we can look for opportunities to build relationship.
There was a 9th grader whose goal was to steal as many donuts as he could from me. At first it was irritating. He was pretty good at it, and I only had so many donuts. I think his record was 5 in one morning!
Then, I got my head out of my feelings and remembered that I don’t actually care about how many donuts he ate. I wasn’t at the school for donuts – I was there to build relationship. I let my perspective change and made it fun. Little by little, we were making jokes and getting to know one another. In his 10th grade year, he stood by me every week and became my donut guard – actually protecting the donuts from other kids who wanted to steal them!
Let’s look for those opportunities, and trust that as we keep praying, God will make a way.
But it Really Does Hurt My Feelings!
Yes! It can. And I’m sorry that it hurts. But allow me to say something tough here.
We have to stop taking rejection so personally – even if it is personal! While I love to feel accepted by the youth that I serve, the reality is these kids are not our peers. It is unhealthy for us to emotionally “need” something from them.
And if a kid doesn’t like you for some reason? Well, that makes sense. Because they don’t know Jesus, and they don’t really know you. Instead of dwelling on it, what if you helped that kid connect with one of your volunteers or another youth pastor? Can we be so bold as to trust that maybe we aren’t personally God’s answer to every single kid?
Don’t Give Up.
Youth Ministry can take years. It’s all about authentic relationships, not having kids notice you because you are the “cool guy.” Relationships always take time.
It’s worth pushing through the awkwardness and rejection.
To me, that moment where a kid’s face lights up because he just realized that God loves him….it is that moment where it suddenly doesn’t matter how long it has taken.
In what ways have you had to deal with kids rejecting you in youth ministry? What is it for you that makes it worth it?
The bottom line… our job isn’t to get the kids to say “yes,” to us; our job is about creating moments so that they can say “yes” to Jesus.
I know it’s hard, and it may not get easier, but keep showing up where kids are. The fruit is worth it.
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love Jonathan McKee’s book, CONNECT: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, truly required reading for youth ministry
Joel Williamson has been working with young people for two decades leading a non-profit reaching at-risk youth. He loves youth workers and is passionate about equipping them for effective, transformational ministry. Joel currently works as the Chief Strategist and CFO for Youth Core Ministries, serves on his church's youth team, and lives with his wife and daughter in Noblesville, IN.
Tony FactorSeptember 25, 2018 at 2:27 pm
Great Article! I know that guy!
TJOctober 1, 2018 at 5:40 pm
Yes! Yes! Yes! I feel like I’m cheering for Daniel Bryan to win a wrestling match. All the yeses! I’ve been at it for 18 years, and youth ministry, despite a boat load of past success is getting harder, not easier. Well said my friend. May we beg God for further help and fruit that only He can give. Blessings!