Subscribe

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

  • Tim, it doesn’t really seem like you know what you’re talking about – JJ luv your stuff dude!

    I would also like to add to #2.

    Figure out who the influencials are in your specific ministry and in the church itself and do what it takes to create trust. This will go a long way and give you stability when others take a stab at you.

    I had a pastor once say, “every church has a church boss”. This is the person or people in the church that are very influential and have the power to defend your ministry or hurt your ministry.

    Win these people over.

  • Yeah, I think that’s okay, Steve, as long as it doesn’t become favoritism, sucking up or unintentionally labeling them as “more important.” You’ll still have to make the hard decisions to do what’s right for the ministry whether those influential people agree or not.

  • I would agree with that because sometimes those influentials may not be operating out of the spirit of God. You will always battles that you must be willing to die on.

  • GiGi

    Ooooh! I want a mentor! Er, I NEED a mentor! Great idea! Pray for me this week y’all (North Carolina, cut me some slack), I’m taking our kids on a Winter Weekend next Friday. Three nights, me, and teenagers. Phew!

  • GiGi

    Oh! And my awesome leaders of course!

  • Lee Roberts

    These are great for everyone, not just rookies. I’ve been in youth ministry for about 6 or 7 years now and those are all things I’m trying to do on a regular basis.

    Also, I’d totally back you up on #8. It’s so easy to start doing the ministry for your honor and glory, when it should all be going to Him. Learned this one the hard way several times.

  • In addition on #1 I’d add that it’s important to stay focused on the area(s) you were hired for. Everyone has a job for you to do. Shortly after I arrived at my church someone informed me that there were no paper towels in the Men’s bathroom. Luckily I didn’t know where the paper towels were stored (otherwise I would have changed them myself). Instead I directed them to one of our janitors. You have to be able to focus on the job of caring for students.

    -Jeff-

  • Pingback: A Shore Thing()

  • Thanks Tim,

    This is my 4th year in ministry and I still feel like a total rookie. Any words of wisdom on how to become a lifer of youth ministry? Not just for the short beginnings but how to create a ministry that sustains you as well as the students?

    Thoughts, ponderings or complete and utter ramblings… any insight will help! Thank you for providing us with your wisdom!

  • Being me I vote for number 6! Who needs an office anyway?

  • Nice post, and I particularly echo #7. I’ve known pastors and youth pastors who felt the need to come in and start making changes right away — big changes that ended up in them losing their postion before 6 months was up. There is great wisdom in picking your battles your first year or two at the church — make changes that are really necessary to the health of the ministry, but otherwise follow the maxim: Year One: Learn them, Year two: Love them, Year Three: Lead them.

New eBookGo
Focused Youth Ministry ebook

85% off!

Focused Youth Ministry

This practical "how to" ebook will walk you through a 30-step process to discovering God's vision for your unique ministry context. The process also shows you how to implement that vision and put metrics in place to evaluate what is moving the vision forward and what isn't.

Price: $12.95 Limited time: $1.99

footer