Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

Youth Ministry: Compare and Contrast

shoutout my iPhone... and these goobers

shoutout my iPhone... and these goobers

I wrote a while back (tongue-in-cheek, mostly, mind you) about working with men versus working with women.

If you really want a case study in male/female differences, though, let me tell you: youth ministry.

Very convinced that women and men are at peak oppositeness when they're in, like, eighth grade.

My youth girls can think about everything at once, especially themselves and others' perceptions of them. My youth boys can think about nothing so profoundly it's like you can see straight through their eyeballs to empty space.

My youth girls frequently feel the entire spectrum of emotion in a span of 30 seconds. My youth boys frequently require emotion coaching beyond "happy," "angry," and "hungry," especially when it comes to, say, tact. And fear. I've never met anyone so convinced they can't die. Or so confused by why anything resembling a fat joke goes over so poorly with girls.

Female complexity and politics are at an all-time high in the teenage years, which is exhausting for everyone involved. The only exhaustion that comes from teenage boy conflicts are physically restraining them from punching each other sometimes; and even that's pretty rare.

"I don't like ______," one boy said about another a few weeks ago. No inflection. No aggression. Just an announcement. I started to try and work some conflict-resolution magic on the situation, but he cut me off. "It's okay," he said. And it was. Because boys.

I expected that I'd get to lead in the lives of our girls, giving advice and insight from someone a few years further down their same road; and I love every minute that I get to do so.

What I didn't expect was how much I'd enjoy leading in the lives of our boys, and how much they would respond to it. I have the unique privilege and humbling responsibility of calling up and calling out godliness and goodness in our boys. In a world where so often they are pushed in the exact opposite direction of biblical leadership and strength, I don't take my influence lightly. I want them to know that a woman who loves Christ loves seeing Christ in them, and to know how proud of them I am when they cultivate that — and I encourage my girls to encourage them, too. ("But what if he thinks I like him?" the girls wail. Fourth paragraph of this blog post, babe, fourth paragraph of this blog post. They won't. I promise.)

Teenage girls greet me on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights by trying to physically attach themselves to me, like they are barnacles with mascara and I am the mothership. Teenage boys are awkward as heck, running the gamut from a cross-crowd head nod to Very Nervous side hugs. One guy tried a complicated, unpracticed handshake on me a couple weeks ago, then immediately followed it up with, "I'm so sorry, that was way cooler in my head."

My girls treat me like I am Beyoncé, even if I am an objectively disgusting mess. My boys actually do a pretty good job of treating me like I am Beyoncé, too, because I am an older girl with all her teeth who pays attention to them; but they throw some real misses in there, too, which are always golden and which I always try and harness as teachable moments. Better me than the ladies of Dripping Springs ISD, that's my motto!

"When you laughed, the first thing I thought of was Hulk Hogan," one boy told me last week.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"In the most feminine way possible!" he hastily added.

I don't even want to know what he thought of the laughter that followed, but once it subsided (and once I'd added it to the youth leaders' ever-growing Youth Group Quote List), we had a fabulous and constructive discussion on how he might not want to compare girls to professional wrestlers in the future.

I have never had to tell my girls not to fart on each other, or not to get on the roof of the youth building, or to shower.

Of course, I don't have to tell my boys not to be catty towards one another or put more clothes on, either, so they win at least a couple rounds.

Both boys and girls have their ups and downs, and there's more than a little truth to the cliché roller coaster metaphor for those of us who choose to strap in with them. But I love it, and I love them; and at least at the end of the day, I'm guaranteed the ride won't be boring, right?

True North

Short and Sweet