How To Thrive As A New Youth Worker

Ryan Schmall
July 8th, 2019

A couple months ago my family and I packed up our bags and left our town, family, friends, and church that we’ve been a part of for over a decade. I took a new position in a completely different area where we knew absolutely no one.

Maybe you’ve been there, too. Maybe you’re in the midst of this kind of a big ministry change.  Either way, I’m here to confirm what you’re probably thinking about this big shift…

Yes, it’s terrifying.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s a truly awesome opportunity for growth and development, but that doesn’t take away the nerves that come along with being the new person. As I’ve been at my new church for a couple months, I’ve seen lots of things that look similar to my last community, but the rhythms, relationships, and dynamics have all shifted. I’ll totally admit that last week I had a near emotional breakdown because I just didn’t feel like I could do it. Questions zipped through my head like…

Did I make a horrible mistake?

What if everyone here secretly hates me?

Am I even supposed to be doing student ministry?

Being a new environment messes with us internally. We get so used to how things are or have been that discovering some kind of new “normal” seems legitimately impossible. You often feel like a cyclone ripped right through the middle of your life, leaving you to simply piece things back together.

So whether you’re the new person or are contemplating being a new person, here are a few thoughts I’ve realized over my past couple months that could be helpful for you.

Remember To Listen
One of the mistakes we can easily make when we enter a new community is to come in with all our ideas hard and fast. In fact, I did this at my last church. I became a wrecking ball because I thought I knew what was best and never stopped to listen and hear the heart of others. It’s okay to come in and not make any major changes right away. In fact, I’d say that’s pretty healthy. You’re brand new to this community and taking the time to engage relationships with a listening ear and heart are one of your biggest tools to developing a healthy ministry. Even if you don’t agree with things that are being done, taking the time to hear people’s hearts is a powerful way to earn trust.

You Were Hired To Be You
Most of the time, when we take new roles, we’re replacing someone. If you’ve ever been in this situation then you know how much you get compared to that other person. “[Insert name here] never did things like that” and “But we’ve ALWAYS done it this way” are pretty common phrases. It’s tempting to succumb to the feeling that we want to be liked or that we don’t want to disappoint anyone, especially when we’re new. However, you weren’t hired to be the last person. You were hired because the church saw tremendous value in YOU. So be you. Don’t disrespect what was or the person who came before. They offered something valuable, too, but remember that you were brought on to bring you to the table.

Don’t Expect Much
This one may sound weird. I totally believe we can expect God to show up in big ways at completely unexpected times. That’s not what I’m talking about. Sometimes we create these ideas in our head of how a worship service will go or how impactful a message will be. My first teaching I prepped for my new student ministry I thought was going to absolutely blow everyone away. I thought it was going to establish myself as this complete and utter rockstar speaker that they can’t get enough of. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. The students were pretty rambunctious and uncontrollable during the teaching, I lost my train of thought several times, and I’m pretty sure my armpits were sweating profusely. When we create these high expectations when we first start out, we’re more than likely going to be disappointed. Instead, just expect God to move and act however God chooses. Trust me, it’s always better, and God’s got way better, more amazing ideas than I ever could.

Don’t Take Things Personal
You’re going to meet all kinds of new people. Some of them will be awesome. Some of them will be….less than awesome. In fact, some of them will downright suck. I’ve had a few interactions with people in my new community that have stung. People took what seemed like personal digs at me or criticized aspects of my leadership style. It’s so easy to take these types of things deeply personal and feel personally attacked. However, if there’s ever a time I can say this, it’s now: It’s not personal! How could it be? You don’t know these people yet, and they don’t know you! So much of what you’re experiencing is people also trying to know and understand you. Perhaps the last person lead in a way they grew comfortable with then you come in and lead slightly differently. That person then must deal with how they relate to this new way of leading. It’s not about you. It’s probably about them. Trust me, it’s a hard one to remember but one that’s incredibly vital.

God Is With You
This is probably the most critical of them all. You will, at times, feel as though you have been completely abandoned, stewing in doubt from your “stupid” decision to move. But it’s not “stupid.” God hasn’t abandoned you. He’s with you. The moments where we feel alone, we can rest in the truth that God is walking with us in the midst of it all.

Ryan Schmall

Ryan Schmall is the Director of Family Ministries at Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church in Palm Desert, CA. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram @iamryanschmall

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.