20 Years of Youth Ministry

I have been a youth minister for 20+ years. Due to a financial struggle in the church, this past week was my first week away from it. I have many memories (both good and bad) – many friendships – many lessons-learned during this time. Here are a few of the most important things I learned:

1. Those rough students who really need Jesus, really need you to defend them, stand up for them, love them. You might even have to protect them from the church people.

2. Quality moments happen randomly in the most unexpected moments during quantity time.

3. Seeds planted where you never see fruit may become fruitful after a student leaves the youth ministry.

4. It’s the church people who will hurt you the most.

5. You’re having an impact on kids that you didn’t even know were paying attention – even those who don’t show up to your events.

6. Some of the strongest students in a youth ministry will also have parents who are modeling a life of loving Jesus. These students are the ones who always say, “No, don’t let my parent volunteer.” But the ministry can’t happen without those parents and the students are inwardly glad their parents are there.

Some of the strongest students in a youth ministry will have parents who are not even Christians. These students have “done it all” and know they need Jesus desperately. They will be the ones who will be your greatest evangelists.

Most of the students who are nominal Christians, have parents who are nominal Christians.

7. Confirmation should not be the end of a student’s time in ministry. Parents who come to you for help when their 16-yr-old son is in trouble with the law have unrealistic expectations if you haven’t seen him since confirmation. Do your best to help anyway, ’cause God can do miracles, but. . .man, it’s a tough spot to be in. It’s always best if a student has a healthy relationship with the youth minister.

8. Dads who play golf (or fish or whatever) to “be with God” are still the spiritual leaders in their homes. They still lead their children. They just lead them to the golf course instead of into a community of faith.

9. Mission trips do more for the missionaries than for those being reached.

10. “If you sleep with someone you’ll wake up friends.” (Thanks Kelly) Retreats and over night outings are important for true community to develop.

11. The size of the youth ministry budget is a better indicator than the church’s words about their commitment to youth. What a church is willing to sacrifice is directly related to their true concern for youth.

12. The future of a youth ministry is directly related to the health of the youth minister’s relationship with the Sr. Pastor (or his supervisor).

13. There will be some people who you will never make happy. Heck, they’re not even happy with Jesus yet.

14. Students will learn how to push your buttons. If you’re able, you should let them push and then show them grace. They’ll be walking down the aisle and never know what hit ’em.

15. Jesus is always relevant.

16. Students who hang out with you will be your greatest supporters. If they keep hanging out when they graduate and go to college, you should consider them “family.”

17. Don’t let ministry get in the way of family or a healthy marriage. Your commitment to them may be the greatest thing you’ll ever teach a student.

18. There are some families who are actually living out God’s call for parents to lead their children. These students may not “need” the youth ministry, but they can be great assets.

19. The greatest youth ministry is the one that can run itself when the youth minister is gone.

20. If you love Jesus and you love students, you’re qualified for youth ministry.

Some other stuff I’ve learned: (Some fun. Some really sad.)

1. Even if your budget is small, don’t try to make your own “bungee-run.” It’s been at least 10 years, and one of my students may still have whelps on his. . . oh nevermind.

2. Even if drawing maps of Israel is not your forte, you should do it anyway. It might end up as an inside joke which unites the group.

3. Even people who don’t like being with students can be involved in praying for the ministry.

4. True community can be mistaken for cliques. Sometimes people want to feel like they’re on the outside.

5. Christian magicians might smoke weed behind closed doors.

6. Pastors might be having affairs behind closed. . .well, out in the open.

7. A good youth minister is not usually “real surprised” by how a student ends up as an adult. Habits are formed early and usually continue into adulthood.

8. Even your finest student athletes can be putty in your hands on a ski slope.

9. Spittoons in the sanctuary make people nervous.

10. Potty breaks on the road are important for maintaining dry car seats.

11. Too much hiking can cause feet to look like pudding under a thin layer of skin.

12. When mama (or the business manager) is happy, everyone is happy. Keep your receipts or she might not be.

13. Laughter is better than chemotherapy. (idea from Anne LaMott)

14. Dog bowls aren’t intended for serving eggs to students.

15. Youth Ministry Rules work for all of life too:

1. Represent Jesus.(1 Peter 2:21)

2. Stay in groups of 3 (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

3. Have Fun.