First Third Conversations

Listening to the Ideas of Our Youth

ListeningA blog post by Tim Bowman

As youth ministry people, so much of our time is spent either planning or being active that it is sometimes difficult for us to listen. It is not so much that we do not want to listen, because I genuinely believe that we do, but when there are camps, retreats, VBS, and service projects to prepare for, we simply don't often have the time.

Sure, we might have a one on one meeting with one of our students or a parent, and those are times when we do actively listen; however, even in these situations I always find myself drifting off mentally to the next task at hand. Maybe this is just me, but I would venture to guess that there are others of you out there who have this same problem. I'm not sure if I have any solutions to this at this point in time, except possibly being more proactive about getting things done so that when we do need to focus and listen we have the space and freedom to do so.

I suppose I should clarify by what I mean by not listening. What I am specifically thinking about is getting student input on what is happening in the activities and ministries that they are participating in. I think it is important to make space for regular student input to avoid any dissonance between what we as youth workers might perceive as a success and what the students think. If you stop and put serious effort into listening to student voices, I can guarantee you will be amazed by what you hear.

These ideas have come from a recent experience of asking students for input, and they blew me away. I was with a group of four seventh grade boys, who are part of our after school program. After our first year, I have been trying to think of ways of improving what we already have. I wanted to incorporate a service element into the program as well as more structured activities, because the time seemed very unstructured, and it was hard to get all the kids together to do the same activity.

So, I asked the kids for service project ideas and other activities. When you read this list, keep in mind that these are boys who, at first, only wanted to play football during our after school time. For service projects they suggested all of these: Feed My Starving Children, Toys for Tots, Operation Christmas Child, Food Drive, making and serving Second Sunday Supper (we have a community dinner on the second Sunday of each month), Meals on Wheels, raking leaves, helping our sister church in Tanzania, purchasing goats and chickens for families, and Sponsor a Child. For other activities they suggested: Board game day, pumpkin carving, corn maze/apple orchard, skating, hockey, broomball, archery, swimming, cook out, field day, video game day, kickball, bowling, and sledding.

Some of these things we have done before, but just look at that list of service project ideas! It still blows me away that these boys came up with such an awesome list. Clearly some of these activities are from a middle school boy, and that is all right.

After hearing these suggestions, I want to sit down with some of our middle school girls and hear what their ideas are. They came up with so much more than I ever could have alone. I am so grateful that I took the time to listen to them, because the results are fantastic, and I now have a lot of work to do to try and get these things started.

I am really looking forward to starting our program up again in the fall. This is the result of taking the time to listen to student input. Our students have so much more to offer than we realize. They have absolutely wonderful ideas if we only take the time to listen.

Author Bio:Tim Bowman
Originally, I am from Madison, Wisc. I am a senior Master of Arts student in the CYF program at Luther Seminary. I graduated from Bethel University in May of 2012 with a BA in Biblical and Theological Studies. I currently serve at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport, Minn., as their CYF Intern.

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