I was talking to a youth leader the other day and she lamented the fact that her parish staff didn’t respect her, in her own words, “They don’t think that youth ministry is a legitimate parish ministry.” The comment resonated with conversations with other youth leaders I have spoken with and it started me thinking. Are we as youth leaders doing anything to become better at what we are doing? Are we giving the people around us reason to believe that we are serious about being excellent at youth ministry?
By the way, our motivation for becoming a better youth leader should not be to impress or be accepted by the parish staff or to merely keep a job, it should always remain about reaching souls. On the other hand, it just might be a factor in others wanting to be involved in helping you reach out to teens in your parish, staff included.
Here are 8 ways you can become a better youth leader:
1. Take an annual personal retreat just for your own spiritual growth. I went on a 5 day silent retreat a few years ago and it was one of the best experiences spiritually I have had in my life. You won’t be able to lead young people to a deep spiritual place, unless you are already there. We never outgrow or become too important to take retreats. Pope Benedict still attends an annual retreat!
2. Attend at least one youth ministry training conference or event opportunity that your not in charge of every year. Every time I have attended a youth ministry training conference it has given me inspiration and practical ideas that have made me a better youth leader. (Of course, I’m partial to Life Teen training events and camps, but if you can’t make one of ours, make it somewhere to get ongoing training) Put this in your parish budget and invite some of your core to attend as well. I consistently see youth leaders who attend trainings regularly staying in ministry longer and are doing some amazing ministry by the way. If you can, pursue an advanced degree or certificate in youth ministry.
3. Train others to be a better youth leader. They say the best catechetical formation thing a teen can do is to teach a vacation Bible school group. The teen needs to learn the content to be effective. The same principle applies to youth leaders, if you are training others in youth ministry it requires you to be at the top of your game and that makes you better. Plan regular trainings for your teens and core in youth ministry leadership. This also helps keep you accountable to follow through on practicing what you teach.
4. Read - Scripture, the Catechism, Papal Encyclicals, Renewing the Vision, your Bishops Blog, your diocesan Newsletter, Life Teen Spotlights, Youth Ministry Blogs, Newspapers and books on spiritual growth and leadership. When we read, we normally improve as youth leaders.
5. Meet with other youth leaders locally - Take some time to listen to what others are doing in youth ministry. Life Teen 2:42 meetings and diocesan youth leader gatherings are great built in ways to meet with other youth leaders. I recommend getting a couple of youth leaders from your area to meet once a month over a cup of coffee to talk and share the journey of youth ministry with.
6. Foster solid relationships with priests and religious sisters - I am always inspired after spending time with priests and religious sisters. Plan time with your clergy aside from meetings where you are needing something from them for the ministry. Some of my best friends are priests, I treasure these relationships. The example of sacrifice from priests and religious always inspires me and gives perspective for my ministry.
7. Study youth culture – Find out about the culture of teens in your area. Talk to school principals and teachers, parents and most importantly teens to find out what issues or trends they see. Of course there are great websites like CPYU.org out there that give us information about trends so we won’t be shocked when we talk to teens. You will grow as a youth leader the more relevant you can gear the youth ministry at your parish to the current and always changing teen culture.
8. Have a life outside of youth ministry - Have date nights with your spouse weekly, have friends outside of your core team, take vacations and try to take a day off each week to recharge your batteries for the amazing battle of being a youth leader today!
What are you doing to become a better youth leader?