Youth Minister After 2 Years: Perception vs. Reality
I’m worried about my memory. I just started my 6th year in full-time youth ministry, and I’m already finding it difficult to remember any perceptions I had about ministry that have not matched up with reality. So I can’t be sure if what I’m about to share was revealed after I entered the trenches, or if these are ideas I held before then that have since been authenticated by real-life ministry experience. At any rate, these are some principles that have become increasingly important to me in youth ministry:
1. Focus on your own spiritual health and integrity.
By far, this one is the most important. Some new youth ministers believe that more time spent with students equals greater effectiveness as a youth worker. This is not true. It may sound selfish, but the minister’s first priority is his own relationship with God. More time spent with God equals greater effectiveness as a youth worker. To use a worn-out illustration, this principle is much like the in-case-of-an-emergency safety demonstration on an airplane: the adult is told to put on the air mask first before helping the child. Similarly, the minister should care for his own spiritual health before helping his students.
I will never forget a story I heard Lonnie Jones tell a few years ago. He talked about when he was preaching as a young man and caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror hanging in the church foyer. As he looked at himself standing there behind that pulpit, he had this thought: “I am standing here because I have to say something, not because I have something to say.” I want to always have something meaningful and truthful and life-changing to say when I stand before students or the whole congregation. For that to be the case, I must spend time with God and His Word. I must be primarily concerned with my relationship with God. The greatest gift a minister can give to his students and congregation is his own spiritual maturity and integrity.
2. Focus on relationships instead of programs.
Fancy programs are overrated. Relationships are what matters. And in addition to the relationship the youth minister is building with God, he should also seek to develop relationships with the people in his congregation. But once again, let me push back on a widely-held belief with this: the youth minister’s relationships with the parents of his students are just as and maybe even more important than the relationships with his students. Parents inevitably spend more time and have greater influence on their children than a youth minister. I would just be spinning my wheels if I tried to get close to my students while neglecting their parents. For a much bigger spiritual impact, seek out relationships with parents.
3. Focus on the ones who show up instead of the ones who don’t.
It’s so easy to play the numbers game: to claim success when a big crowd shows up and to admit failure when it’s just a few. This is a waste of time. I know it’s important to reach out to students who aren’t involved, but I try not to beat myself up over who doesn’t come. I’ve learned that this only distracts me from being present to the students who do come, the ones that God has placed within my care. Instead of saying, “Where is everybody?” the youth minister should say instead, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to impact the ones who are here.”
Joseph Horton is the Youth Minister at the Winchester Church of Christ in Winchester, TN where he has served since May of 2007. He is married to Lauren Lusk Horton and they have a beautiful daughter named Kathryn Elise. Joseph blogs at Musings of a Youth Minister.