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My Embarrassing Secret About Leading Teenagers

I lead a small group of sophomore girls. A few weeks ago, I shared a secret with my co-leader that I’ve never shared with anyone.

A secret that honestly is a little embarrassing.
A secret I wish weren’t true.
Got your attention?

My secret is that when it comes to youth ministry is that. . . I don’t want to show up.

Ok, so it’s not a juicy secret, but it is embarrassing. After all, I worked with teenagers for a decade as a volunteer, as a teacher, then as a curriculum writer. My day job right now is to write resources or professional youth workers, to give advice to SMALL GROUP LEADERS like me. And yet, when it comes to my OWN group. . .

Most days, I’d rather bail. Now, if you’re reading this and you’re in my group, don’t worry. This isn’t personal. In fact, it has been true in every group I’ve lead ever.

  • About an hour before weekly services, I want to call and cancel.
  • About a month before camp, I am BEGGING my brain to come up with reasons I can’t go.
  • About a seven days out from a weekend retreat, I am already DREADING it.


I have no idea. And that’s almost more embarrassing.

But here’s what’s interesting. The flip side is also true.

  • When I come out of weekly services, I say “This was THE BEST part of the week.”.
  • When I get home from a week-long camp, I’m so thankful I got to go.
  • When I finish up with a weekend retreat, it’s one of my favorite memories of the year.

Leading teenagers is one of the BEST parts of my life. And serving in a small group of high school girls is THE BEST part of my week. And still, each week, something in me screams to run the other way.

Is that weird? Maybe. Am I alone? Probably not.

In fact, after years of coaching volunteers, I’ve found that pre-service urge to run the other way is more common than any of us talk about.

And, after years of wondering why, I think I’ve found some common reasons.

  1. Leading people requires a certain level of authenticity. This is one area of my life where I can’t really fake being okay, in charge, or competent. A teenager can sniff out a fake in 5 seconds or less. So I have to be my real self. And maybe like everybody else, I have a certain aversion to vulnerability. So just before I show up, something in me always starts to yell, “Go home, girl!” “Take the week off.” “You don’t have what it takes!” “You’ll be better next week/event/year”.
  2. Leading people requires me to take the focus off me. I don’t understand evolutionary biology—not by a long shot. But I’m willing to be there’s a certain survival instinct in all of us that resists when we put our focus on someone else. I feel Our student ministry meets on Sunday—the end of the weekend and the day before a busy work week. So there’s always a part of me that wants to self-preserve, self-protect, and conserve energy.

Each week, when I show up, I’m SO GLAD I did. I’m so grateful I get the chance to be present in a teenager’s life, but just before that happens, I know I’m going to feel

. . . a wave of dread
. . . an urge to run
. . . a temptation to bail.

So how do you make it stop? If you have an answer, tell me. I’ve never found one. I’ve just decided to feel it and show up anyway because it’s worth walking through the wave to get to the other side.

And if the wave ever makes you wonder like I have,does this make me a bad leader?”, know that I don’t think so. Important things always make us nervous. Stepping up may always come with an instinct to shrink back. And feeling like you don’t have what it takes may just be an indicator that you understand how important your job really is.

In other words, feeling like bailing doesn’t make you a bad leader.

It may be an indicator you’re a really good one.

Just don’t do it, ok?


Written by Crystal Chiang

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