Awkward situations happen all the time. That moment where you just want to hide or run and leave. If you witness awkward moments, you probably feel actual pain for everyone involved, sometimes including yourself. I bet you can think of your most recent awkward moment and instantly feel regret or shame.
When you realize you are in an awkward situation you have only three choices. You try to run from it, which rarely works. Fight it, which only makes things worse. Or you can learn to embrace it, work through it, and experience the freedom that is on the other side of it. Embrace the Awkward has become my life motto and it came to me in a moment of complete clarity and vulnerability.
I was speaking at a summer camp with 150 middle schoolers, being a youth pastor, I was really looking forward to it. But right out of the gate with my first session things weren’t going so well. I was struggling and when you are speaking to middle schoolers there is a lot of room for grace. And I remember freaking out thinking I had to speak 7 more times this week!
So, I just stopped and started to be real with them. I said, “Here is the bottom line. I want to be real with all of you this week and in order to do that we need to be real with ourselves and each other. So, here is what you need to realize being a middle schooler. I didn’t realize this until years later. In middle school you are either awkward, annoying, or both. Only those three. For me I was both. But the good news is that very few of you will remain that way. The sooner you come to terms with that reality, the more fun we can have. If you realize you don’t have to impress anyone to fit it, and we are all struggling to find ourselves, the more impact that this week will have on you.”
And that was the moment I had the whole room finally pay attention. I shared how I was as a middle schooler and my struggles, my embarrassing moments, and everything else. This set a completely new tone to the rest of the camp because after each of my talks I would have students share with me their most embarrassing stories. And many of these stories led to prayer requests and huge ministry opportunities.
Ever since that moment I realized that in ministry embracing awkward moments is a requirement. Anyone who has spent time with youth know just how many awkward moments you experience. You invite a students to an event and they tell you it “sounds lame,” you try to share a job only for silences in the audience, a parent asks why their student listens to you more than them and there is hundreds of more.
But for me the moment I threw out trying to fit in, be relevant, make it cool is the moment real ministry started happening. The youth ministry God gave me to led started experiencing a whole new level of vulnerability and community which led to numerical and spiritual growth. When we started living out the motto “Embrace the Awkward” is when everything changed. Outsiders were embraced not ignored. There was no social hierarchy or mass fear. When everyone knew and accepted, they were weird then no one had any reason to reject each other. Our ministry nights became a safe place for students to come and experience the love of Jesus on a weekly basis.
For many years Embrace the Awkward was the motto I did everything by, but now being a veteran youth worker (15+ years) my new focus has been on leadership development. I wanted to pass on tips and tricks to fellow youth workers to help them handle those awkward moments better.
So, after some encouragement from my wife Katie, I decided to start a podcast. I wanted an easy way to share my experience and hear from other people’s experiences. I didn’t want it to be a weekly sermon but rather a conversation so I thought who would be willing to do this crazy adventure with me. I wanted someone who was naturally awkward but just as passionate about youth as I was. Only one person ever came to mind. A fellow youth worker named DJ. DJ and I shared a few pranks with each other over the years and he just happened to be starting his first full time ministry position that year. I knew having someone experiencing everything for the first time would help keep a fresh and relevant perspective to the podcast.
So, for weeks I struggled with asking him because I thought it would be super awkward if he said no. It wasn’t until Katie just said “just call him” that I dialed him up and shared my idea. Without hesitation, he was on board. Was it awkward, sure, but like almost always if you embrace the awkward it leads to a new found freedom and joy.
That short conversation led to months of praying and planning and that eventually led to in the summer of 2020 a weekly podcast by youth workers and for youth influencers (anyone who influences youth: parents, teachers, pastors, and coaches). We have one simple goal in mind, to help people handle awkward situations better.
Veteran Youth Worker
Awkward and Annoying Since 1982