Starting Out On the Right Foot in Youth Ministry

Starting Out On the Right Foot in Youth Ministry
Brian Holland

If you’re just starting out in youth ministry, I pray these tips will be a help to you as you jump into working with students. The way a ministry starts will determine a lot of where that ministry will go. Take it from me: Leading a ministry from the ego hurts everyone involved in it, including yourself. The goal is to get away from the ego-driven ministry in order that Jesus’ work truly happens. Here are the first five of my top 10.

1. Be more in love with Jesus than with his work.

Some look at this and think, “Duh. Of course.” But it’s not as open-and-shut as so many believe it to be. In fact, in Revelation 2, Jesus had to warn the church at Ephesus to remember their first love because they’d gone off and played church without him. His warning was so strong that he told them that if they didn’t repent, he’d come and remove their church. And you know what? He did. Besides, how can we teach students to have a life-changing love affair with Christ when we ourselves aren’t experiencing that very thing?

2. Run away from the numbers game.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with taking attendance or with using numbers to track growth (to some degree). However, I’ve also been around long enough to show up at youth ministry conferences and hear us ask each other, “So how many you runnin’?” Remember this: More people involved in a ministry does not automatically mean a healthy ministry. But fewer people involved in a ministry doesn’t automatically mean healthier either. Numbers will change. Your ministry to the ones who show up, whether five or 105, should be done with your all anyway. Try not counting attendance for one month and see if you experience freedom from the monster that can be found in the numbers.

3. People before programs.

Try to think of the most influential messages that you’ve ever heard. Hard to do, huh? Now think of the most influential people that you’ve ever met. Programs are helpful in doing ministry, but people are the reason that we do programs. Creating and providing healthy Christ-centered relationships is key to a ministry. It’s the kind of thing that causes Jesus to cry out, “Great job, good and faithful servant.”

4. Learn balance.

I love my job. I love my calling. I have to make myself not work. That’s how nuts it is. But youth pastors need to make sure that we’re living balanced lives. Understand this: You will never be done. There will always be one more thing to do. Because of this, learn when to turn the computer and cell phone off so you can do something that you like, just because. What a concept! Take up a hobby. Hang with friends and family. Whatever you like doing. Just make sure that you do it. It’s not a healthy thing for a youth pastor’s best friends to be the students that he/she is supposed to be ministering to in the youth ministry.

5. Keep your priorities.

Running a healthy ministry, while at the same time running your marriage into the ground, isn’t something that’s pleasing to Christ. Doing ministry while losing your love for Jesus is unacceptable. Remember this: You’re not that important (there, don’t you feel better?). You’re not. I’m not. We’re not vital to the plan of God (remember Balaam’s donkey—if God can use a donkey to accomplish his will, he can use anyone). God is going to accomplish everything that he wants to accomplish. I’m not called to bear the load of ministry upon myself. Rather, I’m to place the load of ministry on Christ. I get to be involved in this call with God, not show him how it’s done. There seem to be too many “martyrs” out there who have sacrificed something/someone in the name of Jesus that Jesus never wished for them to sacrifice.

6. Set up standards.

First of all, set up standards to protect yourself. What do I mean? Here are some examples:

a. Always have a staff member of the opposite gender counsel those students in your group who are of the opposite gender. But if they really want to talk to you, meet with them during office hours with your door open, making sure that you counsel them in a place where someone else can be in the next room. If you want to see your ministry end, be falsely accused of something indecent.

b. Don’t take students of the opposite gender home alone. Always take someone with you (preferably a member of your staff). Some may even set up a standard to never take any student home alone. Either way, this is a way to protect you so that you can continue in ministry for the long haul.

Second, set up standards to protect your ministry. In other words, have an application process. When you make this application process, make it extensive and time-consuming. If a person won’t give you 45-60 minutes in the very beginning to fill out an application (which, by the way, is only step one in our application process), they won’t be willing to go above and beyond if they were to join your ministry team. We must set up a process to protect the students that God has entrusted to us in our ministries. And even though you may be desperate for workers, never let that show. Be picky. There’s nothing wrong with that. And remember: Just because someone really wants to work with youth doesn’t mean they’d be a good fit for the team and/or vision you have for the ministry.

7. Know your purpose.

What are you about? What makes your heart skip a beat? Do you know what your personal purpose is—that thing that God has wired you for and that he wants to use you to see come about? I found mine while reading through Colossians 2 a while back. It reads: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom.”
This is what I’m about. Who are they? Everyone. My family. My friends. Those in my ministry. Those I haven’t met yet. I want to live my life in accordance to what God has called me to do.

8. Know the vision and purpose of your ministry.

Why does your ministry exist? What’s the God-given specific vision that God has called your ministry to? Here is ours: “Inside Out exists to exalt Jesus as the greatest—one student at a time.”

That’s it. Everything we do fit in that vision statement. Yours may be totally different. That’s fine. As long as it is a God-given vision for your specific ministry, that’s all that matters. Know why you are doing what you’re doing. In Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry Doug Fields gives five key things that a vision/purpose statement will accomplish:

a). A purpose statement will CLARIFY your ministry’s EXISTENCE.
b). A purpose statement will ATTRACT followers.
c). A purpose statement will MINIMIZE conflict.
d). A purpose statement will CREATE personal EXCITEMENT.
e). A purpose statement will PROFESSIONALIZE your ministry.

9. Use your volunteers.

I’ve been in youth ministry for 16 years. For the past 14 of those years, I didn’t give a lot of “responsibility” to volunteers because I felt like it was my job to do ministry. I felt like I had to do all of the work so that they could just hang out with students. However, for the past year and a half or so, God has shown me my job as a pastor: to equip the saints for ministry. The thing is, most people want to get involved in youth ministry because they love Jesus and love students. Each one of those volunteers comes with gifts and talents that far surpass mine in every area. So I’ve set up the ministry so that each aspect has volunteer leaders overseeing those areas. For example, I have two young ladies on my volunteer team who oversee all of the community building events/activities. I’ve done that with each aspect of the ministry, and I’ve seen incredible things happen since handing off key aspects of the ministry. You may have the title youth pastor, but it’s just that: a title. Your volunteers have some incredible ideas to share. Let your ministry loose by handing off responsibility to those who are just as called as you are to work with students. It’s absolutely amazing.
For more on this topic check out my article on titled “Volunteers: Our Fellow Workers.”

10. Enjoy the ride.

If you’re not having fun in youth ministry, something is horribly wrong. Now please understand, there are a whole lot of unpredictable and messy things that come up with working with students. If you can’t handle the mess, become an usher. We’re going to have those things in our ministry that keep Mr. Clean in business. But there’s a rush that comes with working with students, seeing them surrender to Jesus, fall in love with him, grow in him, and find their specific mission that God has called them to. And it’s a ride that has only gotten better over the past 16 years.

From: web site. January 2008

Brian Holland is a youth pastor in Pomona, California.

“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”