Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.
What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
A Chorus Line, Who Am I Anyway?
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
Les Miserables, Who Am I?
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15)
Jesus is the last person you would expect to be having an identity crisis, right? Did He really not know Who He was? In this case, the questions were certainly intended for the disciples (including us) to clarify in their own minds Who Jesus was and is – in other words, it was about theology, not identity.
I, on the other hand, often ask myself, “who am I?” Of course I wear the usual set of hats: husband, son, brother, employee, friend. But when it comes to the young people I interact with, there’s a striking variety in the descriptions of myself I might hear. On Sunday morning, I went from “table leader” to “pod leader” when we changed the seating format to include “pods” of 9 chairs instead of sitting around humongous tables. On Wednesday nights, I’m a “huddle leader” (what other groups usually call a “small group leader”). When I’m introduced to parents’ or students’ friends at a ball game or at the lunch table, I’ve been called everything from “youth guy” to “church dude. The first time I had lunch with Ben at his school, he really didn’t have a frame of reference as to what to call me. He just said, “This is Andrew. He’s my…” and trailed off without finishing. (He did invent a pretty cool term for the Sunday morning role – podmaster. Andrew likes.)
And then there’s my role as “Mr. Burden” or “Mr. B” as I journey through various schools. When kids at the school are also in youth group, the old conundrum presents itself. Do they call me by my teacher name or my youth group name?
So who am I to these kids? A few roles I assume include:
- Parent - Not in the sense of paying for their braces or grounding them when they misbehave, but certainly in the “in loco parentis” sense. I’ve become more aware of this as some of the kids’ parents are as old as me, or even younger. I do cherish the privilege of coming alongside parents in their sacred duty to raise godly kids. In keeping with the concept of the local church as a “family of families,” that’s a great honor and calling.
- Teacher - At youth group, I have no power to grade kids or send them to the principal. My role as teacher there is more in line with my apparent spiritual gift of pastor-teacher. My training as a school teacher resonates with and sharpens my ability to communicate God’s Word to young minds.
- Counselor - Although I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I’m not legally qualified to be called a “psychologist” in the clinical sense. I’d need more letters after my name for that. With a few college courses on the “helping relationship” on my transcript, though, and the lion’s share of two decades hearing kids share, I know a thing or two about asking questions and listening reflectively in a way that helps them figure out how to move forward.
- Pastor - Again, I haven’t been to seminary, I’m not ordained, and my church responsibilities are in creating digital content, not shepherding students. But I am a pastor in the biblical sense. My “flock” is those awesome guys that sit with me and allow me to speak into their lives week after week. No paycheck could match that.
- Friend - This one is a little controversial in some circles. Certainly many old-school teachers still subscribe to the “don’t smile until Christmas break” philosophy. I don’t want to be their buddy or their peer. Any of these 11- and 12-year-olds that are my “friend” on Facebook technically did so by lying in the terms of service agreement that says you have to be 13. But if Jesus called His disciples His friends (John 15:15), who am I to hold myself as high and mighty? Kids have so few adults in their lives that will take them seriously.
A couple things I know I am not, to the students or anybody else:
- Messiah - This one is a tough temptation for me and many other youth leaders. It’s incredibly cool to be liked, loved, and needed. I’d guess the vast majority of us didn’t feel that way growing up. Once I had a number of kids from the school I taught at also involved in youth group. Being Mikey’s teacher (as usual, not his real name), I read in his journal one day that earlier in the week “Mr. Burden ‘saved’ me.” Uh, no. I can only point the way.
- Holy Spirit – This one will be tough for me as a parent when my own kids make choices I don’t agree with. There’s a fine line between encouraging/challenging and just plain nagging.
Who am I? The most blessed guy in the room.