What are the youth ministry lessons I have learned over the years that would have been helpful at the beginning? This is the question I asked myself when trying to think about what kind of advice to share. I finally settled on three lessons to share, which I think will help you set a solid foundation for the rest of your ministry career. These three lessons are: connect with parents, be yourself, and be more concerned about what God thinks than what Timmy’s parents think.
1. Connect with parents
The first lesson I want to share is that you need to connect with parents. Most youth workers understand the importance of connecting with the students. You know how to meet for lunch, shoot hoops, play video games or just sit down and talk with students. You want to do that because the students are the reason you got into youth ministry. But do not forget to connect with the parents of those students. I don’t mean just on Sunday morning or before a big trip. I mean visiting them at home, having them over to your house, dropping by their workplace (when you can), or anything that is a one-on-one type of interaction. As you get to know them better, you will know how to better minister to them. Plus, you need to get to know the family structure and atmosphere that your students are involved in. The more you know about a student and his parents, the better you can minister to the family.
2. Be yourself
This second lesson is a little more personal: you have to be yourself. God created you as an individual with specific gifts and abilities. You are not like that high profile youth worker or that nationally-known minister, or even the previous youth worker. If you have the gift of compassion, use it. If you are musically talented, make music a big part of your contribution to the ministry. If you are not a great speaker, find someone who is and have them do the upfront teaching. Do not pretend to be someone you are not – it will only harm you and the ministry. You will never be your most effective (determined by God) in youth ministry when you are focused on being someone you were never created to be. Now, I am not saying you do not need to improve yourself and your ministry – you do. Being yourself means that you should be maturing and growing as a Christian. With this growth will come a change in your youth ministry. When you allow God to mold you and change you, you will begin to see your students changing the way they interact with God, too.
3. Value God’s opinion most!
The last lesson I learned, and want to pass on to you, is that you have to be more concerned about what God thinks than what Timmy’s parents think. As you lead the ministry, you will begin to notice there are people who have opinions. These people may be parents, grandparents, aunts, neighbors, longtime members and even the students. Some of the time they will like what is happening within the ministry. At other times, there will be people who do not like what is happening and how you handle their observations will determine how you minister to the students. There are three common ways to handle what other people think: completely believe what they say, completely ignore what they say, or react based on whose opinion it is. None of these are healthy for a youth worker. But, I also think there is a better way – focus not on what people think, but on what God thinks. When you are spending time in God’s Word and prayer, you are learning to listen to His guiding. As a youth worker, listening to God and following His leading is far more important than making Timmy’s parents happy with you. As you follow God, people will see His hand within your youth ministry. When people begin to see God working in the lives of the students, they have a tough time arguing with a petty difference of opinion.
Mike Kupferer has been in youth ministry for over 7 years and still loves it. He loves students and desires to see their lives changed because of Jesus. The only thing Mike loves more than youth ministry (and God, of course) is his family.
Posted on October 28, 2008