Words By Jerusha Ricketts

Can your youth be your friends? This was a tough question that I really had to wrestle with. At twenty-four years old, I have been a youth leader for six years. Throughout those years, a small number of my youth have told me that they consider me a friend. Some have even claimed me as their best friend. Being a friend is a good thing though, right? So why did the title feel so uncomfortable to me?

Every time one of my youth expressed feelings of friendship, I found myself panicking on the inside. How do you tell people that you don’t quite see them the same way that they see you, without being condescending? I found ways to tiptoe around the comment. All of which allowed me to refrain from returning the title. My youth never seemed to be put off by my responses but I was never satisfied with how I handled the situation. As I heard the comment more and more, I began to see a pattern.

The youth who considered me a friend were the youth that I closely discipled. I may not have counted them as friends but they did hold a special place in my heart. These were the youth that I had many one-on-one conversations with, the youth who sought my counsel, the youth that I was able to share my life with and the youth who shared their lives with me in return. These were the youth I knew well, the youth I found myself thinking about and praying for often. These were the youth that I felt God had led me to. I began to realize that these youth were to me what Peter, James and John were to Jesus.

So yes, they weren’t my friends but they weren’t like the other youth either. They were counting me as a friend because they recognized something special in our relationship. I recognized it too! It wasn’t friendship for me though. The reason I had a problem with my responses was because they failed to differentiate the relationship.

Unable to work through things on my own, I decided to run my dilemma by a friend who is also a young adult and a youth leader. I was shocked to find that she too was having the same problem. As we shared our experiences and our thoughts on mentorship, we also drew insight from the Bible. We finally found a way to distinguish our relationships with the youth we disciple more intimately.

The reason our youth were not our friends wasn’t because they were younger than us or because we didn’t enjoy our time with them. It was because we carried a burden of responsibility for their relationship with the Lord. As long as we were feeding them spiritual bottles and babysitting them, we could not be friends. We were their spiritual parents.

However as young adult youth leaders, your youth don’t see you that way. You’re too young to be a parent. So we decided that we would opt for the title of older sisters.

I’m now in a place where I feel at peace when I tell my youth that I’m not quite their friend. Instead, I let them know that I am their older sister. With that title, I can communicate that I recognize we have a special relationship, I am committed to that relationship and

I am there to help them move from a place of spiritual infancy and dependency to a place of spiritual maturity and interdependency.

When we can sit across the table from each other and both be feasting on steak, with our spiritual knives and forks, then friendship can flow. Until then, I will remain a passionate, invested and intentional older sister.