It’s a little pessimistic sounding, isn’t it? As the Coaching Coordinator for a youth ministry training organization and someone with 20+ years of youth ministry experience, I have watched several youth ministers make the same mistakes. For all of you first-timers at a church, here are some ways for you to avoid pitfalls so that you can grow and develop into your new position as a youth minister.
So, what are some things that could help you to keep your youth ministry position?
Develop a relationship with your senior pastor.
Your pastor may have an office on the other end of the campus, but the senior pastor needs to feel secure in trusting you with one of the most important ministries in the church. He wants to know that he can safely have your back when someone comes to him with a complaint. Your pastor wants to know that you can be trusted and that you make sound decisions. He needs to be kept abreast of the workings of the ministry so that he is not blind-sided when someone else shares his/her discontent regarding the youth ministry. Your senior pastor can be a resource to you in many ways, and you may develop a valuable life-long relationship. Make an appointment with your pastor today and weekly!
Despite how busy you are, respond to phone calls, emails, or texts within a reasonable time.
Church staff, parents, youth, and volunteers are all busy too! They also need to feel valued. Create a habit by responding within 24 hours. If you cannot get back to someone within 24 hours, at least text or message the individual explaining that you received his/her message and you will respond within a realistic, designated period of time. Open communication in youth ministry is often perceived as an oxymoron. Let’s change that perception!
Spend the first year gathering information and then make changes with input from others after the first year.
From the name of the youth ministry to the meeting nights, the whole set-up may not be palatable to you. However, before you arrived on the scene, the volunteers, parents, church leadership, and youth may have had some type of ownership for this ministry. If you want to develop a healthy ministry, bring the input of these folks to the table and make mutual decisions. Not only will you want to stay for the long haul, they’ll want you to be there!
Establish a professional mode of dress.
You say you want people in the congregation, parents and youth to treat you with respect? Earn it! Dress like a youth ministry professional, not like you just got back from a dodge ball game. People’s new attitude toward you may amaze you! And, the dynamic of professionalism in youth ministry will get bonus points.
Be proactive in making an annual youth ministry budget.
Do you want to have a budget for your youth ministry? Most churches cannot afford an accountant for the youth ministry. So, you’d better learn how to create a budget, submit it to the finance committee, have measurable goals for expenditures, and manage it. These strategies will expand your skill-set!
Work on sensitivity during communication.
I’m not discouraging transparency here. That is an asset. What I am discouraging is the email to a parent, volunteer or staff person in response to frustration on your part. It can be a wise practice to run your emails or text responses by someone that you trust first. Once you hit the “send” button, you cannot retrieve what you said, and it can get you in a world of trouble if your response is perceived as terse, defensive, or angry. Maintain vulnerability seasoned with grace.
Consider parents or guardians a part of your youth ministry.
Yes, you are the YOUTH minister, but if you miss the opportunity to partner with parents or guardians, you are missing an opportunity to influence youth in their faith. The Fuller Youth Institute spent a lot of time researching the fact that biggest faith influence on a teenager is the parents. http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/helping-kids-keep-the-faith Youth ministry is a family ministry. As you equip parents to support the faith of their students, your youth will be more successful at taking ownership for their faith. And isn’t that our end-goal?
Learn how to manage your time.
You have a position that often has a flexible schedule. Annual events, mission and service opportunities, concerts and frequent evening and weekend events are a part of the ministry. However, the church leadership and pastoral supervisor will want an accounting of your time, most especially during your first year. And, you will want to avoid burnout and stress. Set up a regular weekly schedule that includes your ministry priorities as well as your personal ones. This time management skill will prove to be a gift for life.
Have peer support and accountability.
There is only one group of people who can even begin to understand the ups and downs of youth ministry, and that’s other youth ministers. Yet, we have developed a culture of self-protectiveness amongst ourselves. What is it that we fear? Every year youth ministers who complete our program at the Youth Ministry Institute emphasize the relationships that they have developed with other youth ministers as their greatest take-away. We can all benefit by participating in a cohort of youth ministers to pray, share best practices, and celebrate together.
You now have a heads-up on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls in youth ministry. Thanks to all who have gone before and helped to teach these lessons. I wish I had known these things when I began in ministry…
Kathy Rexroad obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1975 fromWest Virginia University. While serving as volunteer nursery coordinator at an Orlando area church, Kathy felt God’s call into a life of ministry. While serving for over 25 years at that church, she “grew up” with the children she served and became their youth minister. As the church’s longest tenured staff member, she received the unique blessing of watching some of her former youth alumni respond to their call to ministry and others return to their church home as godly spouses and parents. In December 2010, Kathy retired from her ministry to serve her family that included four new grand babies, with her husband, Gregg. In September 2012, she was hired as the Coaching Coordinator for the Youth Ministry Institute. In addition, Kathy coaches, leads a small group, serves as a Youth Ministry Assessor and board secretary, and teaches Student Leadership.