Last week, I ran across this post from my friend and colleague, Eric. Eric’s a youth pastor in Colorado – and he packs a wallop of wisdom in this short little post for up and coming youth pastors. Take a look – get to know Eric – and examine your heart. (I have posted this with Eric’s permission.)
Can I express a frustration I’m feeling right now without sounding like a jerk? Which may potentially be unavoidable. But I’ve just had a series of conversations with present and former youth pastors that have left me upset and disappointed in our collective cohort.
It is my understanding that there are some ministry students in this group. These next 3 things are points that I’ve learned in 13 years of youth ministry and wish I would have known as a student as well.
1. If we are not passionate about seeing teens become champions for Christ and excel through graduation instead of simply using youth ministry as a cop-out from joining the workforce or a stepping stone to being a senior pastor or other church staff position it’s time to back out now. Something may well come along later that YM prepared you for, but the intention of coasting through YM for the purpose of building your resume is shallow and selfish.
2. If youth ministry isn’t something you would do as a volunteer with no pay outside of the reward of seeing students “get it” the job won’t be easier if we’re doing it for a paycheck.
3. If you’re struggling with personal life and faith issues and/or secret sins working those problems out on your teen followers is not “doing life together,” it is clouding their understanding of the gospel. Fix it BEFORE entering ministry, these things don’t magically go away after you go full-time. That’s it for now.
Students can lead. Everything. It probably won’t be as polished, perfect, or theologically sound as what you bring to the table, but your students can do it!
They’re fully capable of planning, executing, and evaluating Disciple Now. They can lead a Bible study, small group, or accountability team. They can be responsible for Vacation Bible School, church hospitality, or offering collection.
Trust me. If your appendix ruptured and you spent weeks in recovery, your student ministry could continue as though you were never missed….hypothetically speaking, of course.
Students can do more than run your media presentation or play in the student band. I’ve had students do all of the above – yes, including running an entire student ministry for six weeks in my untimely absence. And before you assume it was a small church with just a few kids – we had over 100 students in Sunday morning small groups, a full-blown weekly evangelism rally, Wednesday night discipleship studies and several accountability groups that were meeting weekly. Students did everything in my absence. Everything.
How do you make that happen, Darren??
- Give them space to do it. Provide coaching and direction, but don’t spoon feed them. Give them some room to make it their own. (Probably the same way someone coached you through your first ministry experiences.)
- Let them fail. Before my students succeeded, they had plenty of opportunities to not get the powerpoints done or forget to enter attendance records, or do a 40 minutes study in six minutes. I walked alongside them in failure, pulled the rip-cord only when I absolutely had to, and kept coaching them toward success.
- Let them succeed. By that, I mean success takes time. Don’t give them one slight responsibility and never let them do anything else. Give them time to lead so they can see success when it comes. And when it comes, let it take root by allowing them to continue developing in leadership roles.
- Don’t pull rank. It could have been really easy to say ‘Well, I’m in the hospital and this is a big church and there’s a lot going on and we need to have an adult in charge blabbity blah blah blah.” We didn’t call the grown-ups to come in and save the day. I knew our students could do it. So we had some adults who stood in as pinch-hitters if needed….and the kids did everything. (By the way, that’s as much a testimony to my pastor’s leadership as mine.)
Kids lead when we let them. It takes some coaching, leading, and cleaning up. But it’s worth it.
What are you doing to allow your students to lean into leadership?