Veteran Youth Ministry Advice: Grow up

The following post is contributed by Tony Myles, one of the youth ministry mentors.

Read the entire “Veteran advice for new youth workers” series.

My dear brothers and sisters, please take the time to grow up.

(Thanks. I was trying to sound biblical there with the intro, but did need to throw in a good punch at the end.)

I’m reminded of a time when I sat down with my mentor some years ago and showed him sketches and sketches of a great structure I was going to implement into our local youth ministry. He looked it over with great interest, and was about to tell me something amazing over lunch when we sat down to talk about it.

I just knew he was.

He had to.

And yet, instead of complimenting me on how much of a genius I was for conceiving of something that didn’t borrow from Saddleback or Willow Creek, he simply said this: “If it be God’s will, may it succeed and succeed well.”

What the heck does that mean?

I walked away defeated in that conversation because I was setting out to prove my worth and felt that was the best way to do it.

Maybe you’ve struggled with this, too.

Perhaps you’ve had “parents night” in your ministry where you bring all the families together so they can hear your great plan to save their kids and every teenager in the community. I can’t speak for you, but I have to admit that on my end some of those nights were for them to nod their heads in approval at me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in hindsight I find that even the coveted consequence of a parent’s night — more of them volunteering in “my” ministry – was more self-centered than anything else.

Or maybe you’ve done “youth Sunday” where you get all the kids on stage at the same time in order to wow the congregation. Kids who don’t normally sing get to sing, mainly because it looks impressive on stage. Throw in a skit, an edgy video, a boisterous sermon, and a comment at the end about how youth are the church of tomorrow or today (take your pick).

Perhaps you feel I’ve stereotyped you.

Actually, this is more confessional.

Because this isn’t about your calling. We all have some story about how God has called us into ministry, but that doesn’t make your calling the most important one. The Lord may have allow you to have the title of pastor (or get your name in the bulletin), but if you start acting like a martyr when people forget to call you reverend you have lost sight of what matters. You don’t have to write the next book or come up with a new model to feel validated — simply be faithful to whatever God asks you to do each day, whether that takes you on or off stage.

Because this isn’t about your job. If you’re one of the rare people who get paid full-time to work with students, be prepared to give up that job tomorrow. You are a specialist, which means that if the needs of the church require your congregation to no longer have a youth pastor you need to be the first to recognize that. I once saw a large group of youth workers in a denomination fight against a structural change because of how it affected their job security, and for no other reason than that. May we set our sights on something other than professional comfort.

Because this isn’t about you. Be honest – a lot of what you do gets unnoticed, creating a temptation to want to be noticed. To borrow a phrase from John Ortberg, learn the practice of secrecy: do amazing things without getting found out about them, hold your tongue when you want to sound smart, and celebrate with others whom you would be tempted to be jealous of.

Please forgive any stereotypes that are not true of you.

But if you have felt at all awkward as I’ve shared some of my own bumbling…

then it’s time to grow up.

Please take the time to grow up.


Align yourself with God.

And as you do that may you succeed.

And succeed well.


Tony Myles is a 16-year youth ministry veteran who now serves as lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio. His love for the Church and its future has spilled out into writing, coaching, and conference speaking. He’s written the book Miracles of Jesus, is a part of the Emergent Village Coordinating Group, and helped produce Christian Endeavor’s Pray21 campaign. And he really, really likes smoothies.

Posted on October 16, 2008

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