When my son Paul was in first grade, we moved from the Washington, DC. area, to Pittsburgh, PA. I had just taken a new youth ministry job, and the move was pretty big for the whole family. As well as all three of my children, I was born just outside of D.C., so naturally, I raised my children to cheer for the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins. My children had all the gear – shirts, hoodies, jerseys, and of course, hats. The problem was that Redskin hats in Steelers country don’t really work, but how do you tell your six-year-old son that he can no longer wear his favorite sports team’s hat now that we were living in a new city? I didn’t tell him, and he continued to wear his favorite hat.
On Paul’s first bus ride to his new school, a bully decided it would be funny to grab his hat off his head and throw it out the window. As he did, the other kids on the bus laughed. Paul was humiliated. That evening when I asked Paul how his first day of school went, he told me about the incident. I was furious. He was hopeful. He simply told me that he saw where the hat had landed, and asked if we could go back to look for it. Miraculously, the hat was still near the spot where that bully had thrown it out the bus window. Paul got his hat back. I told Paul that he might want to more carefully consider the types of hats he wears from now on.
Why do I tell this story? Well, I was thinking about hats we wear in youth ministry.
As Youth Ministers, we don’t just wear our one, favorite hat. And we need to carefully consider the types of youth ministry hats we wear because wearing the wrong hat at the wrong time can have consequences. One key to successful ministry is knowing when and where to don the right ministry hat.
Wise Youth Ministers Always Remember These Four P’s
A wise Youth Minister remembers that sometimes you’re the pastor, so you need to shepherd the Lord’s sheep under your care. Whether you have the title, “pastor” or not, you are a shepherd. Your role is to point students toward Jesus, and help them reconnect when they start to get off course.
Most students have few people pointing them toward Jesus and inserting God’s Word into their lives. As a shepherd, one of your most significant roles is being one of only a handful of people tasked to care for a student’s spiritual life. Shepherd well. This is your primary role as a Youth Minister.
A wise student ministry worker remembers that sometimes you’re their pal, so be a friend. Even Jesus didn’t just go around quoting scripture and teaching lessons. Sometimes He was just a friend to those who followed Him.
The gospels don’t really show this, but I can guess that Jesus played games, hung out, and did a lot of laughing with His disciples. And Jesus seems to be breaking bread with His followers a lot too. Bottom line, He was their friend. Sometimes that’s all our students need at the moment – a friend to laugh with, cry on, share with, and just have fun with. And someone whom they can trust and come to with problems and struggles. Do your students have a friend in you?
A wise Youth Minister remembers that sometimes you’re the parent, so share wisdom and discernment as a parent. You can’t always just hang out and have fun with students. They’re bound to do questionable things that require tough love, and who better positioned to offer that than you.
Of course, most students have biological parents, so we can never usurp them. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t step into that role when needed and offer a parental perspective – especially if it reinforces things their parents are already communicating to them and that we’re equipping their parents to do. Even if you’re not a parent, be a parent to your teens.
A wise Youth Minister remembers that sometimes you’re the policeman, so draw the boundaries and enforce the rules. We know that in order to feel love, students need to know boundaries and face consequences when they cross them. God’s Word certainly tells us not to spare children from discipline when they step out of line (Proverbs 13:24).
As Youth Ministers, we need to use common sense when it comes to discipline. We don’t shame, punish harshly, or humiliate a teenager who breaks the rules. However, we do need to teach them that breaking rules, whether our youth ministry’s, the church’s, or God’s rules have consequences when broken. So, step up and enforce the rules.
So, there you go – the must-have youth ministry hats. It’s all about knowing when to take off one hat and put on another. If you can master the ability to seamlessly navigate this process, you’ll take huge strides toward providing the kind of holistic ministry leadership your teenagers need.
Brent Squires has dedicated the last twenty-three years of his life to student ministry. As the Student Ministry Pastor at Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, Maryland, Brent provides leadership and development for three campus student ministry directors. He oversees a staff of seven, as well as almost 100 volunteers at the broadcast campus. His ministry consists of over 300 middle, high, and college-age students representing 30 area schools. He has been married for twenty-nine years, has three young-adult children, and one pit bull. Brent is also the co-host of the How’d They Do That? podcast. Prior to full-time ministry, Brent oversaw luxury seating for the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins.