The other day I saw a 5th grader trying to help out with some yard work by hopping on the riding lawn mower (of which I have extreme lawn mower envy, still….). My wife and I thought, or maybe spoke out loud, “Wow, this is a big step for his great grandmother.” She runs a tight ship when it comes to her yard. It always looks great, and what would you expect for someone who has a lawn service, spends hours each week tending to it, and mows or has it mowed twice a week?
But after about 5 minutes, the young lad lost his spot on the riding mower. She was back up on the rider, re-mowing the same exact area he had been mowing.
I felt a little sad for this 5th grader, because she completely de-legitimated him. Without saying a word she said, “Your help isn’t good enough.” Instead of letting this lad mow, and then afterwards thanking him, but also pointing out a spot or two which he missed, she just removed him. She took away from him the opportunity to serve. To serve imperfectly. She couldn’t let him fail and have a few blades of grass be longer than their neighboring blades for a few days. Excellence. It had to be done with excellence.
My sadness for this 5th grader soon evaporated like a small puddle in August. But what hit me is that this kind of behavior so often happens to youth in the church. For instance, I think we can often demand perfection (a perfection or excellence that we’re unable to attain anyway), and so we rarely give youth opportunities to lead and serve. To lead/serve and fail. To lead, fail, and learn, and then lead or serve better the next time.
Sometimes the church as a whole is reticent to offer youth leadership opportunities and quick to take them away when things don’t run as smoothly as we’d like.
Yet recently I’ve been encouraged with Redeemer as folks have begun to get off the riding mowers and letting others take the reins. I’ve heard folks say, “I’m happy to continue or to step aside and let someone new take over.” This is happening with adults as well as with youth.
The most recent opportunity I’m excited about is our Bible Club outreach to a local apartment complex. Unfortunately management changed LAST week, causing some consternation, confusion, and a little bit of panic, so the event is now called “Kids Club.” Yet its slated to go on as scheduled and the youth are going to be leading it, with only parents facilitating it. Now it could possibly run smoother (only possibly though) with adults running it, but it would de-legitimate them and stunt their growth in leadership if this opportunity were taken away.
Youth often do want to serve, but I wonder how many leadership opportunities we adults afford them. While its easier to get on the riding mower and do it ourselves, who will mow when we get too old or die? Youth are now growing up and not coming back to the church in the same way they used to. It’s not a get married, have kids, and THEN come back to the church thing de facto. Many don’t come back now.
Giving them experience in leadership now prepares them for greater levels of leadership in the future. But such leadership opportunities might also stop them from leaving in the first place. In the end, we might even find out they can do a better job.