3 Things to Maximize Your First Year on the Job

Jeff Harding
September 23rd, 2019

You just got hired. Your excitement is clouded by traces of anxiety.

“How do I get started with this group?”

If you feel prepared, fantastic. If you don’t feel prepared at all, that’s still okay. Whatever your preparation or experience level, I believe these three things will help maximize your first year on the job.

Champion of Consistency

The primary reason new leaders in youth ministry have a rough first year is because they aren’t the previous leader. Relational separation is certainly worth mourning. That element is out of your control, so don’t try to replace them. Just be yourself. 

The second most prevalent reason is change. Change is a six letter word that feels like a four letter word to many. Typically, when new youth leadership occurs, ministry change occurs. The reasons for new leadership making changes can vary. Perhaps there has been success with a specific regimen of programming and curriculum, so the desire is to maintain that system. The current programming might be seen as stagnant and in need of a boost. Whatever the reason, quick and radical change can often be detrimental to a youth ministry already experiencing massive change with new leadership. 

Imagine for a moment that you’re on a trip to southern California which your group has planned for years. While gassing up the van, a stranger hops in the driver’s seat. The previous driver stays behind while the van drives off. After a quick introduction, the stranger informs the group that you are now heading to Montana. This is a snapshot of how the students in your ministry feel when they get new leadership and new structure simultaneously. The destination isn’t the problem. The swift and multi-layered change that turns the students’ world upside-down is the problem.

Preferably, keep everything static for a school year, or a semester at minimum. This is mutually beneficial, as you can focus on getting to know everyone while not trailblazing new structure at the same time. When you prioritize consistency for your students, the only element of change they have to navigate is you. When everyone buys into who you are, they will also buy into your vision. 

Listen Intently and Respond Authentically

The juniors and seniors are usually the least excited about change in leadership. Their final year or two suddenly feels hijacked. Someone who hasn’t hung out with and discipled them for the last several years is supposed to seamlessly enter and wrap things up with a bow. 

I’ve seen several youth ministries where the new leadership essentially writes off the seniors and focuses on younger students. This might be especially tempting if you’re new, considering that you may think investing 9-12 months in them when they will never feel like your students would be a waste of time and effort. Don’t give in to that false dichotomy and negative perspective. They are central to your ministry and transition. 

One of the first things to do is have a meeting with your juniors and seniors. If you wish, include their parents and the current youth volunteers. You could also have two separate meetings. Plan the meeting(s) in the home of a well-established youth ministry family. This will be a comfortable environment that encourages participation. Bring a mobile presentation easel with paper. 

Following an intro time about you, ask what everyone enjoys about their youth ministry experience up to this point. Next, ask them about what legacy they would like to leave for the upcoming students.

This is crucial. Don’t initially respond to their statements. Just write them down on the paper. You can clarify, but don’t add commentary. Listen well. Identify some themes after everyone shares and ask everyone if they agree. Express how significant everyone is to the ministry, and that you would like them to partner with you in capitalizing on those themes. Provide opportunities for them to invest back into the ministry that has invested in them and improve the experience for the students who look up to them. When you give students who are the most resistant to your arrival meaningful opportunities to influence and shape the ministry, you show them that you are their advocate, not just their authority figure.

Anticipate Failure and Pushback

You might be young, energetic and full of dreams. You might be a ministry veteran with proven success. You might be a combination of those characteristics. Regardless, you will still experience failure and pushback. Anticipate it with every event you plan, program you implement, and word you speak. Give yourself grace and show others that you don’t take yourself too seriously. When you meet imperfections with dependence and success with humility, you will glorify your Heavenly Father and model Christ for your ministry.

Above all, don’t give up. Ministry tempts us to do so amidst continued hardship. Cynicism and burnout are real and more common than we would like to admit. Surround yourself with people who will provide encouragement, accountability, and make you take vacations. The Christian life is designed for community. 

Students tend to believe the best days are behind them when their leadership changes. Remind them that our hope in Christ tells us the best is always yet to come.

Jeff Harding

Jeff has been working in youth ministry since 2004. He’s a Phoenix native, ASU Sun Devil, Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, and Chipotle fanatic. He currently serves as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries, as well as the youth minister at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, TX with his wife, Faith, and their son, Deacon. You can also hear him on the Youth Ministry Maverick podcast, and connect with him at youthministrymaverick.com or on social media @jeffdharding.

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