3 Mistakes of a New Youth Pastor and How You Can Avoid Them!
I remember when I moved out of my parents’ basement to pursue a Bible College education. My parents had oddly renovated our basement in such a way as to have two rooms connected by one door so that my twin sisters could have connecting bedrooms. Needless to say, when they moved out I got this amazing “super room.” When I wasn’t in my super room I was in our living room, laying on the couch, my eyes fixed on my dad’s pride and joy… His 60” flat screen tv with all the sports channels. As I moved out, in high hopes that I would one day change the world, it occurred to me… I don’t have a tv, let alone a BIG tv. My dad’s successful and he has a big tv. Shouldn’t I get one?
Although a slightly unorthodox way to introduce MY first mistake as a youth pastor, I think it properly describes the dilemma many new pastors face. We show up to our new church, bright eyed and ready to change the world; visions of the past ministries we have worked with, and even our own time as a teenager vividly planted in our minds. We sit down at our very first church office desk and begin to plan our ministry: 2-3 events a month, an amazing youth band, the best 15-day missions trip imaginable and super hip youth merch with a Student Leadership Team kicker. This vision, although not totally bad, is a “super room” with a 60” tv (metaphorically of course).
When we view another youth ministry, often we see a product that was years (and I emphasize years) in the making. We don’t see the awful room they started in, the cheesy games they played and the years of struggle to get to where they are today. When I looked at my dad’s 60” tv I assumed he had always had an amazing tv, when in reality his first purchase of a tv bigger than 28” was in his early 40’s! We view the end product, neglect the years of work they went through and then hold ourselves to the standard of the end product. And so, here are 3 tips on simple youth ministry.
1. Quality over Quantity
Your church context only has so much money, your volunteers so much time, and your students don’t have money or time! Youth today are increasingly busier. According to Stats Canada, the average teenager (age 15-19) in 2005 spent 9.2 hours per weekday on school work, homework, paid work, and housework, and 3.5 hours or more on weekends. This averages out to a 50-hour work week, which is more than some adult workers. When you over spend and over commit volunteers for the sake of an overflowing youth calendar and have low attendance, ask yourself “Am I over programming?” A small number of high quality, efficient events/programs will be far more successful for our busy teenagers than a multitude of low-quality events ever will. From my first year to now, I have cut our program schedule in half. Quality always beats quantity.
2. Clean and Simple is Best
Whether you are meeting in a family’s living room, or are blessed with an amazing youth complex, clean and polished is best. For starters, step back, breathe and work with your team to understand what your goal is as a ministry. If you have been blessed with multiple rooms, then each room should reflect its use (worship and teaching, games room/gym, and lounge room). Many youth and children’s experts have shown the benefit of separating rooms and their use. When a student enters the gym, they understand that this is a space to run and be loud. As they transition to a space for worship and teaching, an effect of worshipfulness and contemplation are associated. For all of you who have tried teaching in a gym… you know what I mean. Secondly, a space should be polished and de-cluttered. Our lives our busy. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and noise. Shouldn’t we be promoting a space that offers our youth and volunteers a place void of the busyness, and bombardment of their senses? Less truly, is more.
3. Relationships are King
Kurt Johnston and Tim Levert, authors of The 9: Best Practices for Youth Ministry argue that all youth ministries should promote two things: Relationship between Creator and creation, and relationships among creation. Regardless of your funding, space availability or size, all programs and events should have relationships at their core. First, we need to offer time for relationships between your leaders and the teens to grow, and second, between the teens as a group. Josh Shipp argues that every teenager is one caring adult away from success. You should check out his YouTube video, I highly recommend it. As we are promoting healthy relationships between volunteers and teens, we also need to be promoting Creator, creation relationships. It is this relationship that is at the center of our worship time, teaching, Bible studies, and ultimately the most important goal of youth ministry. If a program or event is not effectively promoting relationships (human relationships and Godly relationships), then why are you wasting your time and resources running it?
Stephen D. Kennedy is the Family & Youth Pastor at Grace Community Church in Guelph, Canada. Stephen received his BTh in Youth Ministry from Emmanuel Bible College, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Theological Studies at the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel. You can connect with Stephen on Instagram @Stevetheyouthguy and are always welcome to connect with him on any topic! Drop a message, he’d love to hear from you.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.