What I've learned in my first two years of youth ministry

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The last two years have been overwhelmingly positive and warm. I feel that I have gleaned a lot from our elders, and other ministry staff. I want to thank our elders and our congregation for taking a chance on my wife and I. I say taking a chance, because after they hired us, and we moved here, I had what was my first major crisis of faith. I was unwilling for the first several weeks to give things a chance, but our elders believed in me, my wife believed in me, and finally after much needed time in prayer and meditation, I chose to take a huge step of faith. I remained. I am glad. I would like to summarize a list of some of what I have learned from my experience in ministry in my first two years:

1. Over-communicate activites. Even after two years, one of the biggest gripes I hear is that teens and parents didn't realize that an event was coming up or had passed. At the beginning of the school year I pass out a youth group yearly calendar. In addition to the youth group calendar, there are weekly bulletin reminders of coming events, weekly e-mails, and our youth foyer bulletin board. However, all these various channels of communication still manage to miss a few. So, we have to look for various means to reach our student/adult population.

2. It is important for youth ministers to have a good work ethic, and to keep regular office hours. One of the ongoing questions that drives me crazy as a youth minister is the question, "what is it that you do?" I know there are some genuine, kind-hearted souls out there that think youth ministers are glorified Bible teachers and babysitters. We are more than Bible teachers and babysitters, we are followers of Christ. We are trying to be live out the kingdom ethics of Jesus while we are here. We are cultural missionaries. One of the ways we combat the false impression that good people have about youth ministers and what they do, is to have a good work ethic. Keep regular office hours, let your office staff know when you are leaving the office and let them know where you are going. I know that youth ministry is not just an 8-5 job, but make sure you are visible in the office doing the administrative stuff. Who knows, maybe even while you are in the office, you might get some study time. Also, we should have a "mop and bucket attitude." If we see things that need done around the church, do it. We musn't fool ourselves into thinking that we are too good for a mop bucket.

3. I can not please everyone. This is more of a work in progress. I know this is true, but I don't always remember this when I am in the hot seat.

This one is a hard one for me. I am by nature, a people pleaser. So, over the last two years when people have had a problem, I have taken things way to seriously and way to personally. I think you combat this through prayer, and knowing how to handle confict and conflict resolution. Maybe it would do us all good, to spend some time in Matthew 18 and read what Jesus tells us about conflict. We may need to read some books on conflict resolution. The Alban Institute has some wonderful resources for this sort of thing.

We have to remember the source of the criticisim. I don't think most people are out to get you, but we must be able to rise above the situation and remember that the brother or sister who voices their concern are first and foremost your brother and sister.

So, do your job. Live for the King of Kings and remember that Jesus constantly had people griping at him. We are to rejoice when we face persection.

4. Prayer is essential, necessary, and helpful.

We must be men and women committed to our relationship with Christ. We cannot effectively lead if let our relationship with Jesus backslide. So, we must be engaged in the process of spiritual formation. We are the children of God, and we are invited to come into the throne room boldly. As youth ministers, we get strained, our hearts get broken, and sometimes we make messes of our own lives. We must be humble enough to go to the King, and hungry enough to go often.

5. Youth ministers have the ability to change the world one life at a time.

Sometimes, it gets tough to see any progress among our young people. We are often faced with the reality that many of our kids are just going through the motion. But, we will have kids who get it. We will have those kids who will catch a vision of the Christ we are sharing and it will transform them. Listen, regardless of the problems your group is facing, they need to hear you teaching about Christ and his tender mercy and compassion. Model what this looks like to them, but also be firm.

As youth ministers we reallly are in the people building business. As God pours himself into us, we like wise empty ourselves and pour this into our students. We will impact students. And because of this, we are impacting future generations of young people and ultimately the direction of the church.

Remember, you have had an impact of those you serve. You may not always see the results right away. But by your being a consistent presence in the lives of the teens you serve, you are making a difference.

6. Family is more important than work.

I read an article one time that Jim Burns talked about the importance of family time. When it comes down to whether we cheat our families of family time or cheat the church, he said we always cheat the church. My wife is constantly reminding me that our family is more important than my work. This is and has been, will be a hard lesson for me to fully grasp. It is easy to get so busy that we miss out on important family things. 

In the same article that I mentioned above by Dr. Jim Burns, he also shared how he is only gone three nights a week doing youth ministry stuff. The other nights are for the family. While ministering to teens is important, taking care of the spiritual, emotional, physical needs of our family is more important.  

7. Your spouse needs to hear you say, "I love you," often.

Our culture is over sex-saturated. Marriages are breaking up left and right. Many of our teens know others who come from broken homes, and quite a few of our own teens are experiencing a family breaking apart as we speak. So, we must commit to modeling what a godly marriage looks like.

Our wives need to hear us tell them we love them often. We must go beyond using the "L-word" we must model the 1 Cor. 13, Eph. 5:25 kind of love that we read about in the NT. Love must be sincere, and we must constantly strive to put our spouse's needs above our own.

Is this easy? No, we are naturally selfish souls, so we must guard against our own self-absorption.

8. I need parental involvement for a successful youth ministry. In other words, parents are not the enemies.

Knowing this and practicing this are two different things. There is no way of getting around this truth: Parent's are the most influential people in the lives of our young people. Our job as youth minister's is to tap into that resource. We have to begin equipping our parent's to understand teen culture. This can be tricky especially for those of us who don't have teenagers of our own. So we approach this with humility and honesty. We need to educate our parent's that our roles as youth ministers is to supplement what they are doing. Deut. 6 teaches it takes a village to raise a child. So, we have to get over ourselves and let parent's have a place in our ministries. Maybe we need to redefine youth ministry to incorporate family ministry?

9. Find an accountability partner.  

James in his epistle is quite frank, he writes, "when tempted…" He doesn't sugar coat the truth. When we are tempted, and let's be honest we all are. Our temptations come in different packages, but we are engaged in the battle between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). James also encourages us to "confess our sins to one another" (James 5:17). I encourage you to find at least one person who you can trust to share your struggles, hurts, failures and victories with. This person must be another adult. I know that some will vary on their opinions on this next piece of advice, but I would even suggest you find someone removed from your church setting who can offer a non-biased opinion.

My accountability guy and I talk weekly, or more as needed. We share our failures and vicotries and pray with each and for each other. We also share what we are learning in the Word.  

10. God really will do what He says He'll do.

Our God is an amazing God who loves us so much He was willing to trade places with us. Our sin for His righteousness. He promises to be with us always, to equip us, to forgive us when we fail, to provide for our needs, to guide us, to heal us. Is there a request to bold for our God? No, we need to remember that God is a person who keeps his Word. I turn your attention to Gen. 15. God cut a covenant with Abraham. The way this worked was an animal was cut in half, and both parties would pass through. If either party failed to uphold their end of the covenant they were agreeing to let happen to them what happened to the animal. Abraham passes through the halved animal, and so does God. He seals the deal. His promises never fail and His love never ceases.

This is not an exhaustive list of all that I have learned, but I think it reflects my first two years. I am looking forward to this next year of ministry and all that God has store for our congregation.

2 Responses to “What I've learned in my first two years of youth ministry”

  1. Anonymous tony sheng 

    Thanks for posting this - nice to hear your honesty and openness. Especially #3 and #6 - those are some good reminders.

  2. Anonymous Blaine 

    Thanks for sharing this. I just finished my first 2 years, and have been feeling dried out. Most of those are things I have learned, but needed to hear from someone else, particularly 3 and 5. Thanks again.

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