I always get some kind of compliment when I wear it in public. It’s a kind of badge of honor, I suppose. When I wear it, I know that I am making a statement – and sometimes, when I’ve forgotten that I have it on, the comments I receive from strangers take me by surprise.
Like yesterday. I was checking out at the grocery store, and the guy behind me said, “Yeah, we gotta stick together!” I thought, “Wha…? Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m wearing it today.”
Yep. My “Old Guys Rule” shirt generates a lot of interest – especially when I wear it at youth ministry functions. The kids give me a smiling hard time about it, other (younger) youth leaders snicker, and parents give me a thumbs up.
One of my Board members and I were in a store, saw it, and he bought it for me. When I wore it the next day, he and I had a long conversation about being old guys in youth ministry. (He’s a volunteer youth pastor and has worked as a volunteer in student ministry for 35 years.) We started talking about all “The Old Guy’s Rules” that we have learned in our combined 80 years of youth ministry and how our experience (and age) has radically altered what we do with teenagers.
Youth ministry has a stereotypical youth leader: someone who is young, talented, and energetic, knows all the latest jokes, wears hip clothes, talks in teen slang, and is a “kid magnet.” I know several youth pastors who fit that description, and I’ve known many more over the decades that I’ve been a youth minister. However, of all the men and women I’ve known that we would describe as stereotypical youth leaders, none are still working with kids. Conversely, all my youth ministry Old Guy friends would probably not have fit the stereotype back in the day.
There is a tremendous need for young people to have seasoned veterans in their lives. They need men and women who have weathered the storms of controversy that youth ministry can create; youth leaders who have survived church battles, broken down busses, suicides, camp food, campus tragedies, and fashion fads. Kids need youthworkers who understand the ebb and flow of ministry and are still looking to the future.
There is incredible value in racking up the years working with teenagers. I know. I’ve been doing this since 1974. I guess that makes me an Old Guy. And, to my young friends, I rule!