Over several years in youth ministry, I’ve realized that students continually see me in a different way. I started as the Christian Jack Black; loaded with energy, donuts and an assortment of shenanigans. Then I was seen as the moral, advice-giving big brother to many of my students. Now I’ve given up trying to look trendy (not sure I ever did) and I’m settling into a different role, but I’m not sure exactly what that is. Who knows how students will view me next?

It has been the life-story of my mentor Cliff that has opened my eyes to the way students perceive us and more importantly, how we perceive ourselves as youth ministers. Cliff has been serving teenagers through Young Life and the church for over 40 years and he is still at it! (He has taught many classes at Fuller as well) When Cliff was in his 40’s, he clearly realized that students no longer viewed him like they once did. This realization sent Cliff into a season of reflection that ended in a great life lesson for he and many others.

Cliff needed a name change.

I’m not talking about “the Young Life guy formally known as Cliff” or a nickname like C-Diddy. He chose a name that left no imagination to who he was and what he actually looked like. He chose Uncle Cliffy. Mind blowing, right? If you ask around in seasoned Young Life circles, they will know who Uncle Cliff Anderson is. While the new name sounds rather bland and uncreative, it propelled Cliff forward in the way he saw himself around teenagers and vice versa. Cliff was no longer trying to be cool or relevant which has made him incredibly cool and relevant to so many people.

Cliff has helped me to understand when students see an older or maturing youth minister that they are looking for just that. While students are entertained by our joke crackin’, guitar strumming and milk chugging, we all know that they desire more from us.

There are many aspects of ministry that Cliff can offer to families that I can’t. He can say things in a way that I can’t. He has life experience that I don’t have yet.  Our church is blessed to have Uncle Cliffy just the way he is and we are glad he doesn’t listen to Lady GaGa and wear skinny jeans.

As far as youth ministry is concerned, how do you see yourself?
How do you think the students view you?
And what do your students need from you regardless of age?