Today we begin the new series : “My School Bus Youth Ministry.” My goal is to share some lessons learned from my time driving school bus that transfer well into youth ministry. Today I want to start by thinking about the “not so average” students we run into. These are rough around the edges and trouble. Yet, with a little effort, they can become not only a tremendous asset to the group. but they can also be influenced in positive ways out of the way of life they are accustomed to.
In my work with teenagers I have found that their immaturity gets them into trouble and also makes them teachable. There are some incredibly gifted teenagers who are making a difference in the lives of people around them. Some of them are out serving their communities and leading younger kids in mentoring relationships. Others are investing their time in causes that they are passionate about. The key ingredient to these people are positive adult input in their lives. If parents, teachers or youth leaders have real involvement in the lives of these young people, I believe it would make a huge difference and potentially eliminate some of these scenarios.
Each person has potential and wants to find a place for that potential to be realized. In those tumultuous middle school and high school years they are so vulnerable to peer pressure as they try to figure things out. This can be an opportunity for them to navigate, if instead of throwing up their hands in confusion, adults made an effort to authentically understand them.
My bus had a notorious bully on it. I mentioned last week that the bus they gave me was overloaded with students and also notorious with a history of being rowdy; it lived up to its reputation. There was one kid who was the obvious ring leader, and I started making an effort to talk to this kid. I would ask him about his day, what he liked to do, and just have a conversation with him. I truly wanted to help him see that I was not just some random adult in his life. I was someone who actually cared for him. He was a tough kid who was far larger than I was. In fact, he surprised me one day when he got out his switch blade knife to free a window that was stuck. The window was sticking and he offered to help me get it unstuck. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the knife, and the blade snapped into place. He fixed it, but it did make me wonder about some of his activities All that aside, he was a really amazing kid that just had a rough family life. I came to realize that many people in his life had simply written him off as a nobody. But, with my simple investment in him, it didn’t take long for the bus to become far less tense and much more controlled. Once he started opening up to me it started other kids doing the same thing.
He graduated and I forgot about him for a while. One day I was in my bus waiting at the high school and out of the corner of my eye I saw him. At that moment, he saw me and he came running over to talk with me. He gave me one of those manly hugs and told me about how he was enrolling in classes for engineering and that he was finally getting his driver’s license. He just wanted to let me know that he was really making an effort. I told him I was really happy to hear that and I wished him the best. He then left and I never ran into him again. I know I was not the only adult in his life. All I am saying is that with a little effort we can actually engage teenagers in conversation. With a little openness, we can actually influence their lives in a positive way.
When society continues to cast teens as a horrible, hard to understand, rebellious group of punks, then an opportunity has been squandered. Then people wonder why they rebel against adults in their life.
Let’s not marginalize this group of people, but look for ways to invest in their lives. They truly are a blessing to work with, if you just take the time to care for them. I know that my experience on the bus would have been different if I had written him off as a trouble maker from the beginning I know that in my youth ministry this is the same way. There are people who appear to be in a completely different place spiritually. But, when time is given to them we find out that God has a place for them. There are no wasted conversations!