“Hindsight is always 20/20” they say (whoever “they” are) and even in the world of youth ministry that is abundantly true. Looking back over my 9+ years of youth ministry, there are three things that I really wish I had known and lived from the start:
1. Give “Your” Ministry Back to God. Daily.
Saying that we work for God is a real treasure and an honor. You will get “oh wow, you work for the Church,” or “your church PAYS you to work with teenagers?” all the time. The truth is that “working for God” is of little substance unless you are “working WITH God.” In the youth ministry world you will get praises from people just for being willing to devote any decent amount of time with teens – the proverbial “knight in shining armor” for the distressed teenage culture.
On the flipside, you are likely to find people who don’t like you. Why? Who knows, there doesn’t always have to be a good reason. Sometimes people don’t like your approach, adults, teens and sometimes even pastors. These stresses, frustrations and disappointments can run for days, sometimes weeks at a time and the temptation is to give into the “maybe I should just quit,” or “I’m not appreciated” or “I’m not the right person for this.”
Giving it over to God every day before you begin your ministry is absolutely critical. It is for His glory and His teens that we do what we do. We lead our ministries because we believe this is what God has called on us to do. By doing it with Him instead of FOR Him, you will receive the Grace – one day at a time, which God tells St Paul “is sufficient for you.”
2. Keep Track of Your Hours.
To tell a youth minister to keep a rigid schedule on a weekly basis is, well, laughable at best! Having said that, I wish I had in the beginning kept my one or two days per week off, truly OFF limits from ministry. In desiring to get things done and NOT protecting our time off, a few things happen:
- You don’t give time for yourself. Having non-ministry time for yourself (not just sleeping time) is critical and healthy.
- You establish a culture for your parish, your Core and the teens that we are always accessible without limit. This can limit the type of people you attract to Core because they may feel they guilty by trying to protect work, family and personal time because you don’t.
- Not tracking your hours (and in turn limiting them) creates a culture that is “me” based, not “ministry” based. Over the years I’ve watched people put in double their paid work hours on a consistent basis. This can create a bar that is unfairly set for your replacement down the line. I have seen people step into shoes that were massive and perhaps a little unfair only because a youth minister established a culture of working consistently 60+ hours a week – EVERY week. Then someone new comes in agreeing to work 40 hours a week and they don’t seem to others as “committed” or as “successful” as their predecessor.
Keeping track of your hours helps you see how much time you actually put into the ministry. Going outside the margins does happen, but when that becomes the norm, what are we doing in the long run for our ministry and what are we modeling for our teens?
3. Build a Core Team
Starting in a non-Life Teen parish, I was the Youth Minister. Period. As we adopted the Life Teen model and went through the process of developing a Core team, I could never have conceived the depths of holy pride I would know in working with a team to bring our teens closer to Christ. To see teens come to Mass for the first time or come back to Mass because of the activity of Core Members is so rewarding. We had a ‘youth minister’ based youth group for four years, and Life Teen for the past five years. To see the exponential growth of the ministry in vocations, religious discernment, prayer life of teens, relational ministry has been nothing short of a massive outpouring of God’s grace.
I think perhaps sometimes there is a temptation to just do what we can on our own and become complacent in that, or get comfortable working with what we have. To offer in prayer to God consistently a desire for more Core Members to serve is not a prayer we should be casual about. Most of us can easily testify to the joys of working in the Lord’s vineyard – why would we NOT want others to experience that same joy! We should constantly be praying for more Core Members and inviting more and more people into the adventure of youth ministry. The time that we invest in our Core Team is a direct investment in the lives of our teens!
I hope that these three insights will help young youth ministers start their service off right. To serve God’s young generation is a priviledge. It’s worth getting learning from other’s mistakes so that you can serve the teenagers with freedom.