Dear 23 Year Old Me and Other Youth Workers Just Starting Out

November 9th, 2020

It all kind of comes down to this: Do good work. Love God. Love people. Don’t be stupid.

It was official. My office door said “Youth Pastor” on it.

Yes, it was a “converted” Sunday school classroom/ storage closet but it was all mine! I was almost done with seminary and it was time to DO STUFF FOR REAL. I had been a volunteer youth worker, done the intern thing, and had even served as a paid associate youth pastor. Now it was MY TURN to be the real leader! Boy did I have a LOT to learn!

Here are some lessons that if I could talk to the 23 year old me, I would definitely share!

1) Relationships matter so settle down and be patient.

When I got that first real office, I was so very excited and I wanted to do E V E R Y T H I N G like yesterday! I had all these creative ideas and dreams and goals and plans…. Sound familiar? Even if all of it is from the very heart of God, there are still people involved and they don’t know you yet.

You have got to get to know the ADULTS in the church and not just the kids and volunteers. You need to know the silver haired grandmas and the guy who sings too loud on the second row and the one who faithfully cuts the grass. Remember, build relationships and make changes over time.

2) Work to know parents and to build trust.

Those parents are going to ask you a zillion questions and will question decisions that you make. Plan on it and prepare for it. Thinking through the “why” of your decisions ahead of time will help you to keep your cool and your perspective when the questions come.

This way you already know the answer and it’s not personal, it’s just business. Remember, working with parents is some of the most important work you will do in the life of a teenager.

3) Decide to have a life outside the church.

I did youth ministry as a single adult for a LONG time. I would work hard and then go home to an empty apartment. I didn’t even have a plant to talk to so my temptation was to work on stuff for work. I was getting TONS done but had no life and really, no room for a life.

It was unhealthy and set a ridiculously high level of expectations with the church that then turned into unhealthy expectations in my own heart. Remember, you may have to work at having a life outside of church, but do it!

4) Determine in your heart that failure is not your identity but rather an experience.

You will want to do everything “right” and not everything will be. When you mess up, handle it like a professional and a leader. Work it out with whom ever you need to, change procedures, etc. Refuse to treat failure like it’s a tattoo when really it’s only a bruise.

Take your work seriously, and yourself not so much! Remember, failing is not forever!  So, determine to fail forward by learning everything you can from the experience.

5) Your personal money matters for your whole life.

No one goes into ministry to get rich. We do it for the kids and for the families and for our sense of calling in God’s Kingdom. It’s true that you’re maybe not making much money or nearly the money you deserve, BUT you are still responsible for it.

Pay off the credit card. Save some. Give generously to the Kingdom. Put some in an IRA or other retirement plan. You will be in your 40’s before you know what hit you. Remember, what you do with your money now will matter later too.

I could go on for days about all the things I wish my 23 year old, early in youth ministry, self knew. Really, I’m not sure that my 23 year old self would have the wisdom to listen and then apply the lessons…. It all kind of comes down to this: Do good work. Love God. Love people. Don’t be stupid.


For more than 15 years Kerry had the joy of serving on the pastoral staff in the local church helping young people and their families connect the dots between Jesus and their everyday lives. She is a sought after national speaker who specializes in training leaders to engage next generations and their families with the gospel. She is a published author of numerous journal articles and other resources.

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.