Dear Fellow Comrades,
I write these words to you to encourage and strengthen you in the work that you are doing. Of all the letters I have written this one, more than any other, is the most burdensome on my heart. In the Old Testament when a prophet shared an oracle (See Hab. 1:1) another possible translation for oracle was “burden.” While I am not “a prophet nor the son of a prophet” I still have a burden to share that weighs heavy on my heart for this is the vocation I labor and strive for everyday. Forgive me for the long discourse but there are a few things I want to share.
First of all, you are not Jesus Christ so the saving of souls is not your responsibility. I shared this in a video with the GO! campaign Brad Montague was doing but I learned it somewhere in my reading. Early on in my ministry I felt like I needed to solve each and every problem a teenager encountered and it wasn’t long before their problems became my problems and I nearly burned out. There is a fine line where helping a teenager with their problems actually hurts them even more with their problems. Any parent would tell you that you have to let children work their problems out otherwise they will not be able to stand on their own. There was only one Savior who died on the cross and his name was Jesus of Nazareth not you.
Secondly, saturate your ministry in Scripture and prayer. You are going to have to endure many hardships and these can be dealt with only by way of the Holy Spirit. Scripture was given to us as the rule of faith (regula fidei) and no other document can provide the proper guidance you need in ministry than Scripture. Prayer is your life-line to the Lord Almighty. You’re going to need it. You are going to pray when five or six students get baptized at once thank God for all he has done and you are going to pray on the frantic trip to the hospital when one of your students has been in a car accident. Like Paul, you will pray without ceasing knowing that there are certain things that can only be dealt with by prayer.
Thirdly, recruit volunteers to do the things God has not gifted you with. We all go through phases where we do the bulletin, clean the bus, write the bible class, send the e-mails, create PowerPoints (spending hours on just the right image and background and font), conduct nursing home services and then do the office stuff. You cannot do everything on your own so equip parents, volunteers and even students to do the things you can’t or event shouldn’t. But that leads me to a little rant about PowerPoints, fonts, etc.
Fourthly, quit wasting time on things that do not matter. Technology is the craze right now and that will not change but too many youth ministers spend unacceptable amounts of time creating the best video, PowerPoints, flyers, blogs and everything else when they could be doing more valuable stuff. I am not saying videos have no place (could you delegate that or do you have to do it?) but there are ways to do stuff smarter and faster. The problem with videos is that teenagers look at them and say, “WOW! What’s next?” They could care less that you spent five hours on it because they are always going to ask, “What’s next?” Poor time management will kill you if you consistently cannot get a hold of it. Unexpected things will pop up and if you do not take control then you are toast. Blogs (of which I am guilty) are time killers because you are always checking on who commented on your post who said this and who said that. Get out among your kids and talk with them and quit blogging so much. The internet world will be OK without you.
Fifth, quit comparing. Have you ever walked on a swinging bridge and looked to the side while walking? It’s never a good thing as usually you start to go crooked and even a little fear develops. When you compare your ministry or church with another usually you do not compare but you contrast. You start to look at what you don’t have and what you are not doing. Then you get a little jealousy in you and so instead of celebrating another youth minister or ministry you start becoming embittered against them as if ministry was a competition. God did not call you to THEIR church but he called you right where you are at. No you don’t have 150 kids in your youth group but God has blessed you with 20 wonderful souls. Bigger is not necessarily better.
Sixth, drop the ego. It’s not about you. Too many youth ministers have inner idolatry in their hearts where they believe that if they left the church context they were in then the church would cease to exist. That’s hogwash! you want to know why? God! Our God kept the church going through some of the most tumultuous times in history and you are just another person in his creation. We are replaceable and that is ok. Maybe the church will do better without us which we should be happy about anyways! Should we ever be upset if a church thrives without us? In the words of Paul, “May it never be!”
Seven, do not major in the minors. There is a fine-line here as well but too often I see churches and youth ministries who become “issue-oriented” churches. They are all about this issue, that issue and it becomes a little bit like theological sparring. Issues are important to understand but teaching a generation about all the things we don’t do will send mixed messages about THE MANY things we can and should do. But on the flip side…
Eighth, set a high standard for what you teach and preach. I don’t know about you but I am tired of hearing the same “easy” lessons that come from the same stories we always here. I am tired of the incessant allegoricalness that plagues or lessons like “Facing your giants,” “Avoiding your Bathshebas” and “Life in the belly of the fish.” Allegory has its place but not everything in Scripture is neat and has three points to it. Do some study and wrestle with the text and just admit that not everything can be studied in 12 weeks, 6 weeks or even in 6 days of camp. That also means you need to write some of your own curriculum. You will get better with time but just don’t go out and buy something from GROUP or Zondervan just because it looks cool.
Nine, guard your heart. If you have been in ministry long enough then you have heard of ministers who have cheated on their wives and some have even cheated with youth group kids. As unbelievable as this sounds it happens easier than you might think. Not setting boundaries, letting your mind wander, having a messiah-complex (see #1 above) and even not attending your wife sexually all can contribute to inappropriate behavior. Of all people, you need to guard your heart and if it wanders seek help immediately.
Finally, have fun. There are many difficult aspects of youth ministry but if you can’t have fun with this job then you probably need to quit. It is fun! Late nights at Waffle House, skit nights at the youth house, singing in the fellowship room, that time the wheel fell off the bus, that time you did this or that. It should be fun and when teenagers see you having fun they realize a relationship with God can be exciting and fellowship with Christians is exhilarating.
I love you youth ministers and I pray that God continues to bless you and make your ministries thrive. I am impressed to see what God does and how he leads you to baptize dozens and lead parents in their training of children. Continue to do the good work.