Archives For Letters to a New Youth Minister

Hey there friend,

When I first started youth ministry I thought I was the best thing that entered the ministry since Doug Fields. Even then I thought I knew more about ministry than he did. I thought that since I was having all of these programs, baptisms, visitors and I thought I was something special. The truth of the matter is that me, you and I are always replaceable. Every minister is an interim minster and the quicker we realize that the better we prepare our youth ministries for the future.

“One day someone else will be doing what you are doing. Whether you have an exit strategy or not, ultimately, you will exit” (Andy Stanley, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry)

Listen to what Mark DeVries says in Sustainable Youth Ministry:

“Think about the role of interims: they proactively prepare the way for a future that does not include them. Interims are midwives, not mothers. Interims help a congregation recognize, celebrate and stand guard over its core, momentum-building traditions. Good youth ministers know that to build their minstries around themselves and their relationships with students is to fail in their calling” (92-93).

It’s take me years to figure this out friend and let me tell you something, it is liberating. The church, the youth ministry can either thrive with me or thrive without me. Jesus is bigger than me, my personality, my gifts and my presence. Have you ever thought that maybe the church you are working for might benefit from someone else being in your position? If you can’t imagine that then you might need to reconsider your calling. Ministry is not about selfishness, it’s about submission. Not recognition, but relinquishment.

So free yourself and thank God that he has placed you exactly where you need to be and know that wherever you are at or wherever you leave, God is bigger and better than you. That’s a good thing.




Dear Youth Minister,

I am about to wrap up my eighth full year here at Main Street and I am still making mistakes and learning from them. This will come as a surprise to you but I do not know it all. OK, keep your sarcasm to yourself. Seriously, there will never come a time where you will be able to say, “I have figured it all out.” I heard a preacher tell me that in a sermon you never say never but I can guarantee you that you will never know it all. There’s no magic crystal ball that will provide an easy way out in youth ministry that will work for the rest of your tenure. You know why? Because people are involved. The dynamics of your parents, volunteers and students are always in a constant flux of change and nothing remains the same so neither should your programs, focus or even approach.

Rick Warren is quoted as saying, “All leaders are learners.  If you ever stop learning, you will stop leading.” I buy-in to that statement. I am reading through a book right now by Mark DeVries called Sustainable Youth Ministry and it is firmly establishing that I have missed this (learning) in my ministry. We think that if you get a high-energetic guy who relates well to teenagers and connects to outsiders and can put an amazing video together will automatically translate into an amazing youth minister. I am not sure I want a person who can relate well with a teenager to lead my teenagers. I need someone who relates well with adults and has the maturity level of an adult to learn from them to lead teenagers.

Never stop learning. Ever.

Get started,

Robbie Mackenzie

Dear Youth Minister,

Yesterday I sent you a letter and we said that motives mean everything. Today I want to talk to you about the ministry itself. Perhaps the most important aspect of ministry is people not programs. Every where you go you see a youth ministry doing this new “fad” where they have a program that has strengthened their ministry in some capacity. They have a cute little A.C.R.O.S.T.I.C. for their program that nobody else is using (doubtful) and apparently it has led many to Christ with their new way of doing ministry. I was like that at first. I wanted to change everything (we will talk about change down the road) and implement all of these cool ideas that I learned from conferences, seminars or at a seminary some where. some of these programs absolutely bombed while some of them have been successful but I want to share something with you that  will be serve as a catalyst for your ministry. It’s about people.

Consider the new Sticky Faith movement asking youth ministers to implement inter-generational relationships with their students. Most of us agree with the research (I don’t think this is a fad) that students need to be involved in the larger picture of the church but this isn’t some new program (Deut. 6:1-9 anyone?) but it is a call back to the foundation of youth ministry…people. Jesus did not walk around talking about his missional approach to ministry and his strategies for the kingdom…he walked around and met with people and talked with them and healed many of them. Students and parents come to me regularly thanking the ministry for reaching their teenager not because of a program or event but because of a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, programs have their functions and if you want to survive longer than a month in youth ministry you are going to have to do something other than play PS3 and be “present” all the time. Yet, at the end of the day relationships and people always trump programs. Always. Take it from someone who was slow to realize this.

Your welcome,

Robbie Mackenzie

I am going to start a new series on this blog with the intent of trying to give wisdom to a young youth minister. It seems there is a lot of advice-giving that is easily accessible with blogs, podcasts, and waves of books and articles. I would like to offer my take on what I would say to myself and to a new youth minister if I had to do it all over again.

Dear Youth Minister,

Motives mean everything. As a father I understand this more than when I was younger. I have two young beautiful girls and when they start dating I want to completely understand the motives and intentions of the boy who decides to date her. Good intentions, as I have heard in sermons, are not necessarily God intentions. I hear of youth ministers who begin the ministry for a myriad of different reasons. Perhaps they feel youth ministry is a stepping-stone to preaching ministry or something else. Their intentions may be honorable but their heart will always be somewhere else. Not that preaching MAY be a logical transition for a youth minister but that is not where you need to be right now. I get it though, got to have a vision right? Got to have dreams right? That’s fine but James said, “You are like a mist that appears one moment and vanishes another” (4:14; The Voice NT). Or maybe you want to get into youth ministry because you enjoyed activities in high-school and think youth ministry is about hanging-out and playing dodgeball and such. I would caution you right now, GET OUT! It is more than simply a game of dodgeball as there is theology, planning, meeting and even some heart breaks that occur.

So my first letter to you is really a question: Why do you want to do youth ministry? It’s a low-paying job with hardly any benefits, more hours, more demanded of you, it will stretch you to your breaking-point (and even beyond) and will test the very fabric of your ever living soul. There will be many nights you lie awake crying, wondering if Jonah really made that bad of a decision going to Tarshish. You will lose your temper, you will not be able to keep up with the Jones’ and there will be times you want to quit. Still interested? I hope so. Motives mean everything.

Your friend,

Robbie Mackenzie