Hard times are expected in life and ministry and loving those that challenge us can be hard, but hard doesn’t need to be defined as bad. Youth don’t expect bumper sticker platitudes or cheerleaders every week. They are looking to be seen. If youth ministry is simply about programs or agendas we miss seeing the people right in front of us. We can’t be all things to all people, but we can be faithful to those God entrusts to us. I believe youth are able to discern more quickly whether we have an agenda or if we truly care about them.
There was a specific issue with a youth of mine several years ago. She felt that she had a “special anointing” from God. She would try to teach other youth and adults in our church about the Bible, power evangelism, and prayer, and she always had a “word” for them. In fact, her zeal was so intense that she turned most people off. The church didn’t know how to respond to a teen “know it all” and our head pastor asked me to help. Another youth pastor told me she was an “EGR” girl. I said what is EGR? Extra Grace Required. We all have those kids that we serve that just deplete us quicker, and we inwardly groan when we get stuck on a long car ride with them. This is just the opportunity to open our ears and listen.
I began praying for her and asking for God’s heart for her. I met with this girl and I started listening to her and asking her questions. As you can imagine I found out quite a bit more than just her “know it all attitude”. I found a girl that felt rejected by her father and her peers. She needed to feel superior spiritually because it gave her identity. When I really began to listen to her I realized how best to meet her needs and it was through unconditional love and acceptance. Not a small thing.
I decided to mentor her 1 on 1 which gave her more access to my resources. This built trust, allowed me space to listen even more, and it increased my influence in her life. I began to call out her strengths and giftings with specific ways she could grow and develop them. I asked her to lead prayer more and to take an administrative role in youth group organization. I gave her more responsibility and held her accountable. I really believe that “everybody gets to play” and I became very intentional about mentoring her.
My love for her grew and I began to trust God in her more. As this was happening, the Lord began to use this young girl mightily inside and outside the church. We pursued humility together as fellow believers. It took time, listening ears, trust, and encouragement to develop her gift sets. Nothing would have worked had I not taken the time to first ask the Lord to show me his heart towards her. Once I understood his heart towards her I was able to engage authentically. Today she is a young wife and mother with passion and zeal for the kingdom of God.
EGR people challenge us because we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22:39. This takes time and effort sometimes, but it is a commandment out of Jesus’ own mouth. Is there someone in your life that causes you to groan inwardly? Jesus understands. He hung out with 12 disciples with different strengths and weaknesses. Jesus always chose to join with the Father’s will and he was faithful to developing the strengths of those 12. He was intentional, and so can you be, by trusting God with those “EGR” teens.