Ever dwelt on what you just said to a group of young people and thought “man, I would never have said that to a group of adults”? Ever thought “why is it I can be so strong with young people, but when it comes to my mates, I’m a coward”? Yes? Me too. What is it about youth workers that mean they’d happily preach hard truths to a group of teenagers, but wouldn’t preach the same things to a bunch of adults?
I think a large part of it is the lack of experience or the authority youth workers think they have. And there’s something worrying here, or at least there could be. These feelings could be nothing, it could be be that genuinely they’re better at speaking and working with young people than adults, but these things could be symptoms, symptoms of something far worse. When we’re speaking to a group in the context of ministry what do we think we’re doing? If we think we’re giving advice on how to live then it makes sense that we can’t speak to a group older (and more experienced on living than us). If though we think we’re telling people about how excellent Jesus is, then we’ve got plenty to say irrespective of how much older anyone else is. Also, where do we think our authority comes from? If it’s about being older than the people we’re speaking to (or if it’s about being employed or having the keys to the building) then we’re always going to struggle when speaking to others, after all they’re older than you (or they’re the ones who’ve employed you or have their names on the deeds of the building). The real danger comes here when we seek to use our authority and therefore power to say things to the young people we’d never say to an adult. We tell them not to do things, tell them to do other things, we are strong and firm and take our authority too far with them, in ways we wouldn’t do with an adult. The double danger is we use our power to manipulate young people and don’t use any rightful authority to preach important things to older people. All because we think our power and authority resides in the fact that we are in some way superior (older, wiser, more employed) than the young people.
Your authority doesn’t reside in yourself. It doesn’t reside in your God given abilities. It is given you from Jesus. He’s the one who declares “‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go…’” (Matthew 28:19). Look at how that works. Even Christ does not take authority in Himself. He has to be given authority by His Father and He has been given authority by His Father. He has all authority because He has been given it. And He gives us the command to go out and make disciples of all nations. And so you have authority, because you have been given it by Christ. The One who has been given possession of all authority commands you to do something, so you have the authority to do it. And so, thankfully, excellently, this authority does not depend on you.