Last week I asked you to chime in with your advice for my friend “Neal Newbie,” a brand new youth pastor. You all shared some amazing insight. In the next post, I finally chimed in with my two cents, raising the question, “How should a brand new youth pastor begin his or her job in ministry?” I suggested there were 5 principles to consider. If you haven’t read that post—make sure you go back and read that first principle. Today I continue my list:
NOTE: Today’s post is riddled with helpful links to articles and resources that expand on the topic. I think you’ll enjoy them.
2. Start with People… not Program
This principle has a lot of crossover with the first principle I shared, but it deserves specific attention.
Effective youth ministry isn’t about dodgeball, pizza and all-nighters. Don’t get me wrong, I use all of these tools (and find them effective)… but they are just tools. And they definitely shouldn’t be the focus of any ministry.
Ministry begins with relationships, and relationships should always be priority one.
Just in case there are a few skeptics in the ranks, allow me to interject a quick reminder: the entire Bible is about relationships—our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. The beginning of scripture paints a picture of God’s desire for a relationship with us (and our sinful nature getting in the way). God’s 10 commandments are all about relationships. The first half are all about our relationship with him, and the second half are all about our relationship with others. As you thumb through the rest of the Old Testament you’ll consistently read the commands to be right and just, which basically refer to our relationship with God and our relationship with others. And in the New Testament we see the ultimate example of God’s desire to connect with us in the ultimate act of humility—becoming human and walking among us.
What an example to follow.
Relationships are priority one. Let me give a few examples of what this looks like in a youth ministry setting:
Connecting with Teenagers
Young people today are in dire need of an adult who loves them, knows their name, and is willing to listen. Our kids don’t need Sunday school half as much as they need a caring adult who is willing to pick them up and take them to ice cream and talk about real life. (Note: I’m not saying that Sunday School is bad and we should replace Bible teaching with eating fattening foods. I am hinting that one-on-one discipleship is almost always more effective than what many churches are guilty of providing- a boring teaching time that has no relevance at all to today’s teenagers. And in all honesty, I like to provide one-on-one time AND a relevant teaching time for those who are willing to show up.)
Sadly, I see youth pastors spending far more time fixing up the youth room, working on their Sunday morning talk, and buying food for the snack bar than they do connecting adults with teenagers. Connecting is where the real impact is made.
So what does this actually look like? Connecting with teenagers can be as simple as sitting down with the pastor’s son over coffee or as terrifying as meeting teenagers for the first time on campus or in the bleachers of a football game on Friday night. Your approach will vary with the different types of kids. Luckily, the book Connect offers some practical help in this area, devoting a chapter to each of six types of kids, providing you with plenty of tools to help you connect with the diverse types of teenagers you’ll meet.
But connecting with teenagers is much bigger than one youth pastor just hanging out with a handful of kids; a youth pastor must also be…
Developing Adult Leaders Who Will Connect with Teenagers
Which is more effective? One youth pastor devoting one-on-one time to 5 kids regularly, or one youth pastor developing a team of 10 or 20 adults who each spend one-on-one time with 5 kids regularly? Do the math… the answer is clear.
Far too many youth leaders hate the discipline of recruiting, so they bury this daunting task in their “to do” pile and only visit it once a year during “campaign Sunday.”
Mobilizing volunteers is vital, and one of the most important qualities I look for when hiring a youth pastor. Don’t worry; there are some great resources out there that make recruiting, training and motivating today’s volunteers much easier.
Connecting with Parents
What good is a youth pastor who the teenagers all consider “rad” …but the parents don’t trust him! A youth pastor isn’t just a minister to students, he or she also needs to minister to parents.
I’m a parent of three teenagers, and I know that I could use all the help I can get!
This is one of the biggest reasons we started TheSource4Parents.com a couple years ago. Youth workers realize the need to provide resources and training to parents. Most parents welcome the help. (Maybe that’s why I’m doing more parent workshops than any other training right now?)
Why is it that in every town I visit across the US, regardless of size, the body of Christ is divided into different buildings only blocks apart. First United Methodist, First Baptist, First Presbyterian… really? They were all first?
Worse yet… sometimes these brothers and sisters don’t even talk with each other.
This needs to stop. Youth pastors and senior pastors alike need to break down many of these barriers and celebrate what we have in common. It all starts with a phone call to the youth worker at the church down the street (here’s a few tips).
Don’t put the wagon before the horse (really… that’s the only analogy I could think of?). Don’t spend 10 hours on a Sunday school lesson when the majority of the young people in your community don’t even show up.
Put people before program.
Does this mean you shouldn’t have youth group, Bible Studies, or any kind of program whatsoever? Not even close. Programming isn’t a bad word. Point of fact, programs can be a great tool when you know their purpose. That’s why it’s vital for any youth pastor to…
3. Set the Vision for the Ministry
The first principle I shared for “newbie” youth pastors was to ask questions, listen, and gather information about your community. I encouraged you to observe young people and ask adults a little about the history of youth ministry in the area. This requires a little bit of strategic thinking.
This is why I always look for a youth pastor who is a big picture thinker. Youth ministry leaders need to be able to know ‘why’ they do what they do. If I ask you why you do Wednesday night youth group, the answer better not be, “Because we’ve always done a Wednesday night group.” Or worse yet, “The church requires us to do something on Wednesday night.”
Youth pastors need to set a vision for the ministry—the ‘why’ behind what you are doing.
I don’t care what model you use—just use something. That’s where some good training comes into play. In the first principle I encouraged you to read books and blogs that provide you with tools and resources for youth ministry. In my Connect training, for example, I divide everything we do in youth ministry into two categories, Outreach and Discipleship. Then I encourage you to figure out ways to do each, giving you some tools to do either (this fun little video provides a good summary).
Entire books have been written about how to set vision and purpose (I recommend Doug’s, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry… a classic).
Set the vision for your ministry. Figure out what you want to achieve, and then you’ll be able to decide how to achieve it. And that’s where we’ll pick up in my next blog…
Stay Tuned. The Final Two Principles in My Next Blog!
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