Tips for starting out in vocational youth ministry

1. Set boundaries. Say things like “no” and “It’s time for you all to go home.” The natural tendency is to become over-involved at the very beginning just because you’re so excited to be there and change lives for Christ. The passion is great, but don’t let it set a work-load precedence you can’t sustain over a period of time. Remember, it’s better to do a few things will than a lot of things half-way.

2. Talk with your supervisor regularly. Whether that be your Sr. Pastor or someone else, make sure you’re communicating often, both when things are going well and when they’re not. I recommend meeting once a week to talk about what’s going on in the youth ministry and how you can work together as a team. It also creates accountability and builds trust, and believe me, you can never have too much trust built when tough times strike.

3. Pray. You cannot serve the Lord without regularly talking with Him about it! Pray for wisdom, guidance, and vision. Pray for students, yourself, your family, and those you serve. Saturate the ministry and prayer. Get others to pray for it, too. You cannot have a successful ministry without His involvement. Period.

4. Study God’s Word. Youth group isn’t just a place to teach scripture to others, it’s one of the few jobs in the world where you actually get paid to study the Bible. How cool is that?! As a leader, you cannot lead people to someplace you’ve never been yourself, so make sure you’re continuing to grow before taking the responsibility to help others grow.

5. Invest into volunteers. If you don’t have adult youth workers yet, get some. Even if your group consists of only 1 student, you need help. If you already have a team of youth leaders in place, invest into them like crazy. Train them, build relationships with them, and include them in all your plans. Without them you’ll make a lot of dumb decisions. Plus, see #1 — don’t attempt to do everything yourself.

6. Spend time with kids, not your office. The temptation is to get the youth ministry organized and all the programming straightened out, but, especially at the beginning, kids don’t care what you do in the office all day. They have a brand new youth pastor and they want to know who you are and what you’re like before they want to know what your organized youth ministry is like. Invite them over to your house or apartment (not alone!), go to their sports games and concerts, go out to eat after school and make yourself available online.

7. Don’t change everything right away. Every youth pastor has their own unique style, giftedness, passion and talents, so every youth ministry will be different. It’s important that you mold the ministry according to how God has created you, but don’t do it all right away. Take at least a year to get to know the people and the ministry before making any major changes. Once you’ve built trust and taken time to know “the system” first, you’ll have much more support to make those big changes later without alienating people from what they’ve already known for so long.

8. Keep your motives in check. There’s a lot of pressure to start your new youth ministry position with a bang. Expectations are high, regardless of whether they’re self-inflicted or from the church itself. It’s important that you keep your motives in check and remember why you’re in ministry in the first place. Don’t plan something big just so it’ll impress people or make them think they have some super-star youth pastor now. Never do ministry to please or impress people. Ministry is always about pleasing and serving God.

9. Be transparent. No one knows everything and no one can have extensive experience in every situation. Admit your weaknesses. Be honest when you’re not sure how to handle a situation. The fear is that it will erode authority and respect, but actually the exact opposite will happen. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. The key isn’t being a know-it-all, it’s knowing where to find the answers. Again, that’s why you surround yourself with a team of other youth workers.

10. Stay in shape. Not just because it’s fun to keep up with dodgeball, but because it reduces stress, gives you more energy, and keeps you alert. Seriously, the difference exercise makes in ministry is unbelievable. Yeah, it requires discipline for most of us, but exercising discipline is just as healthy as the actual exercise. Do it if for no other reason than to be a good steward of your temple.

Book recommendation: If you’re starting out in youth ministry, I highly recommend a book by Doug Fields called, “Your first two years in youth ministry.” It covers the essentials of youth ministry, how to handle discouragement, staying spiritually fresh, working with parents, dealing with conflict, building a team of adult youth workers, evaluating your effectiveness, determining realistic expectations and a whole lot more.

Upcoming mentorship program: For those of you who are interested, a reader of Life in Student Ministry suggested that we start a mentorship program for those of you in your first or second year of youth ministry. What a great idea! I’ll work to integrate this with our upcoming online small groups and book studies for youth workers, so stay tuned.

If you have any other ideas for Life in Student Ministry, please post in the comments or let me know directly.

Posted on January 9, 2008

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