I’m pleased to be writing once more about my favorite kind of teenager in the world: the FRINGE kid. These are the students who typically remain on the outskirts of our ministries, maybe attending regularly but never quite becoming a part of the core group. Although a fringe kid can look and act like a lot of things, this post will deal with a certain type we’ll call the “creative.”
She might be the girl with multiple-colored hair or the guy who sits off by himself every Sunday morning blocking you out with his earbuds. Creatives typically have a distinct vibe about them, possibly revealed as an apathetic attitude for anything group related, a quietness and meekness, and sometimes they are painfully sarcastic and utterly hilarious. One thing is typical of the creative type – they want to create. They usually have a difficult time sitting still and listening to a youth pastor or small group leader give a sermon or lecture during a weekly meeting. Creatives do best when inspired, challenged, given ownership.
One thing is consistent among many creatives and that is they are not easily understood. Before they ever entered your youth room they most likely felt different than mainstream students and so began expressing themselves in different ways. Since labeling seems to happen at younger ages, they were probably classified as weird, goofy or gay. Since all teenagers are striving to understand their personal identity and find purpose, some most-likely picked up these destructive labels and are wearing them today. Your creatives may be healthy and vibrant characters that bring an amazing energy into your group or they may be jaded pessimists who sit with arms folded or create nothing but trouble for your volunteers. Here are three action steps you and your leadership can take to help creatives flourish in your group and the Church for years to come:
Here are three action steps you and your leadership can take to help creatives flourish in your group and the Church for years to come:
This may seem obvious but know that when we as leaders spend a lot of time addressing the symptoms of an issue without realizing the cause, we show we’re more concerned with a student’s behavior than we are his heart condition. I once had a girl in my group who made it a point to walk quietly into the youth room, sit in the front row, and tune everyone in the room out as she went to work drawing feverishly in her sketchpad. By her attitude, you would think she wanted to be left alone, but her tendency to sit up front made it obvious she instead wanted to be asked about her drawings.
After two or three times of asking she finally passed her notebook over and I asked if I could look through it. (I remember being told once that as art is subjective, we should be careful never to say, “this is good” because I can’t assign value to a piece based on my opinion. Instead, one should show an appreciation for the artist’s work and voice a connection made with the piece by saying something like, “I really, really like this fish riding the unicycle.” Or, “I love your style of drawing.”) Also, asking questions like, “what is your favorite medium?” or “what bands really inspire you?” will go a long way. Keep asking and stay engaged as they share. Keep digging and they will not only feel like you care about the things they really care about, they’ll know you care about them.
Find a way to make their creativity impact your ministry. Go to Hobby Lobby and buy some small canvases. Ask them to paint something on them inspired by the titles of your next message series. Imagine the sense of ownership that 10th grader will feel when her art is the PowerPoint slide background on the screen or her painting is resting on an easel on stage as you teach. Does your student ministry logo need some updating? Ask them if they would consider helping you design the new graphic.
Create an area in your youth room where they can create in. (As part of our stage design, we hung up not-so-valuable instruments on the back wall and made them available for students to play before and after bibles study. Kids who played loved the opportunity to show off their skills and the kids who didn’t play often showed interest in learning how to.) Prayer journaling continues to be a popular activity for a lot of girls. Designate a table in your youth room for this activity with spiral notebooks, colored pencils, markers, and scripture prompts.
The greatest leader is not always the loudest voice. Once you begin investing in some of your creative students you can have a stronger platform to stand on as you request that they take responsibility for serving and leading others with their gifts. Musical students can be put in charge of giving beginner guitar lessons. Your artists can hold a prayer journaling course for the preteen girls. Your dramatic kids can be put in charge of performing pantomimed music skits to Styx’s “Show Me the Way” where Jesus will most likely be wearing a purple sash. Once you have a better idea of what your creative kids are passionate about, you and your adult leaders can begin to show them how these things can be used to worship God and lead others in doing the same.
JOHN BARNARD is a veteran youth pastor of 20+ years. He heads up a mentor development outreach ministry called Middleman Skateboard Ministries (MIDDLEMANSKATEBOARDS.COM) and lives in TX with his beautiful wife Mandi, loud kids Dylin, Levi and Evie, and fat bulldog Oscar. He likes to turn a wrench while listening to Junior Brown and has never turned down a taco.