I’ve spent the past 15 years working with teenagers at churches in some official capacity. I’ve gone to the conferences. I’ve read the books and articles. I’ve even spoken at some and written a few of my own.

The other day one of my former youth volunteers sent me an email, telling me that she’s going to be speaking at a youth event and wondered if I had any advice. But rather than just keep my words of wisdom in an email between her and me (and google, because I assume they’re reading all my email), I thought I would post it here.

So enjoy.

And if you feel like it, pass it along to the youth pastors you know.

My biggest advice to anyone working with young people is to be yourself.

Don’t try and use references or things that you’re not familiar with or that aren’t authentic to you. (i.e. Don’t incorporate snapchat just because it’s “hip with the kids” unless it’s something that you actually use and know.)

For example, at my last youth event we played board games. Geeky European strategy board games. And our next one will be building things out of Legos and making stop motion videos. Not because board games and Legos are “in” with teens right now, but because they’re authentically me and I’m pretty sure they’ll all love them too. (Besides, they really just want an excuse to hang out together.)

Also, invite/embrace their questions. This continues to be the best move I make when working with teens. They have so many amazing thoughts and insights. All they need is space to share and be heard. And it doesn’t matter so much whether or not they’re right or wrong. My job isn’t to correct them but to give them space to explore and process. Questions trump answers. The journey is the only destination.

And just like any human, stories are always a winner. I try and avoid telling stories to make a point and instead tell a story that is the point.

And if possible, some sort of visual media never hurts (so long as it’s authentic to you). An image or video on screen or a prop in your hand or a posture/phrase you all repeat can go a long way in breaking up any potential monotony and keeping everyone (yourself included) engaged with what’s happening in the room.

What about you?

What advice would you give to someone who’s going to speak at a youth event or work as a youth pastor?