Before we begin, please click on the following link, watch the 4-minute video, and come back here to continue reading (I'll wait): SNL Substitute Teacher Sketch
Did you watch it? Be honest...
As youth workers, we often believe we need to relate to our students and/or parents in order to effectively minister to their needs. While being able to relate is a great connecting point with a student, it is not always necessary.
Disclaimer: I am not writing about Relational Ministry. If you do not build a relationship with the students in your ministry, you need to realize the importance of this. What I am writing about is the attempt to relate (to identify with through experience).
First, let me begin by addressing two things from the video you saw (or should have already seen) above.
Look, in case you didn't or couldn't watch the video, it's about a substitute teacher who comes into an English class and introduces & presents himself as this cool, down-to-earth dude. He attempts to use the students' lingo in order to relate and even comes across as a bit cheesy and inauthentic. The students can smell the fakeness and call him out on it. He keeps trying and eventually approaches a student and mentions that she's probably quiet because she's struggling with the fact that she can't read. He gets called out yet again as one student reminds him that "this is an AP English class".
It's a funny sketch and portrays how some of us can sometimes approach students. We read the latest Relevant magazine articles, check out Axis' Culture Curator, or just work toward staying up-to-date on the latest trends, just to RELATE. Don't stop doing this!
What we need to stop doing is trying too hard to RELATE. Here's the truth, you don't need to relate. You just need to reach.
Again, I'm not saying that relating to a student is bad. It can be a powerful thing to leverage. Just don't think you NEED to relate.
As I've mentioned plenty of times, I was born & raised in one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts. Our youth group was made up of mostly lower-class, single parent students. The majority of them were "latchkey kids". During my time of ministry, all the students were Latinos.
One year (around 2006/7), we had an intern through AmeriCorps. She served in the youth ministry for a whole year. This woman did not speak Spanish. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and was an athlete in high school and college. Her time serving in our youth ministry was precious. She was so effective in communicating with the girls and all the students truly loved her. They even made fun of her last name often and she rolled with it.
Just last year, she officiated the wedding of one of the girls in our youth group. This youth leader continues to stay connected with many of the girls from our youth ministry of about 10 years ago!
She never tried to relate. She didn't change her lingo. She only continued to reach each student in her group. She reached with love. She reached with compassion. She reached with authenticity.
Don't try too hard. Be your authentic self.
Students may give you a hard time when you're trying to reach out to them. They may even avoid you or test you. Just keep reaching. We always say we are Jesus' hands & feet, so let's reach on!
Maybe you're a goofy person who doesn't do well with humor. Be your authentic self! Perhaps you're a sports fan/jock and your students prefer role playing games. Be your authentic self! Or you may even be a kind of awkward person and never take your hands out of pockets...Be your authentic self!
Authenticity trumps awkward...even when your authenticity seems awkward at first.
I had a young man ask me how to relate to his students who come from broken homes and from the inner city. He mentioned to me that he just couldn't connect and they would tune him out. I told him he had to stop trying to relate. I said, "They'll come around, if you're real...and if you love them for real."
Now, another piece of reaching is listening. I told him that these students need to know that they are loved by him. He needs to challenge their mindset that only an inner city person can love an inner city person. Ask them about their culture. Listen to their stories. Have fun with it! Do they have a tradition or ethnic food you haven't heard of? Have them show you the ropes. People love to show off their culture. Try this and you're one step closer in your reach.
Does this make sense? I hope it does. Now, go on with your bad, authentic self and reach students for Jesus!
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