Professionalism in Youth Ministry
Youth leaders, as a subset of human beings, are great at a lot of things. For example, they are great out-of-the-box thinkers, highly energetic, relational, and can survive on more pizza and Mountain Dew than anyone their age should. But, believe it or not, there is a growing trend in youth ministry that concerns youth leaders and the churches that employ them that is worth considering – professionalism. “But that’s what makes me the cool guy,” you may say, or “I’m just doing ‘me’, it’s who I am!” or even “Pizza can be breakfast food too, quit judging me.” In any case, here are a few things to examine to level up on your professionalism in youth ministry.
On time, bro.
Being late is a great way to immediately destroy your professionalism and credibility. When other staff members or volunteers have to wait for you, it tells them you don’t value their time. Yes, youth ministry is a job that can be 24/7 and demand weird hours, but setting an alarm, anticipating for traffic, ending other meetings in a timely fashion…these are traits of someone who’s an adult, even if they did eat Fruit Loops for breakfast. When parents are late picking up or when students are late arriving, it bugs you too, so this is a great way to also lead by example.
Dress for success.
Alright, I get it, I’m a youth leader, too. I have a closet FULL of t-shirts with movie references and clever slogans. I have a dresser FULL of camo cargo shorts and old jeans. But, dressing like I am still 16 years old doesn’t make me any more connected to my ministry, but it does disconnect me from my workplace. So when it’s office hours or meeting with the youth group, I keep it casual, but when I am preaching, teaching or meeting with congregation members or parents, I like to step it up a little. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a little character – for me that means goofy socks and ties with skulls on them. But it does mean that people aren’t devaluing me and my ministry because of what I am wearing. Also, people have stopped assuming I am homeless, so win-win.
It’s easy to fire from the hip or to fly by the seat of your pants in youth ministry. The longer you do it, the more tempting it is to improvise or play it by ear. Resist that urge. Planning and organization can only help you. Having details organized and available for your pastor on events coming up shows foresight. Having it for parents before they ask shows anticipation and wisdom. Parents and pastors like those things. And, while we are on the subject, if you can’t tell if someone ransacked your office or it’s just Monday, that’s a problem. My office has a window in the door. People drop by all the time. There are no secrets here. If people see chaos, even if you swear it’s ‘organized chaos’, that will impact how they perceive your ability to do your job. Youth rooms and youth worker offices are rooms of a church and not our bedrooms or rec rooms. Treat them with the proper respect.
Timing Is Everything.
The hardest thing for me to do when I started in ministry was to be in my office when I said I’d be during office hours. I would walk around connecting with the other ministry leaders, I’d be grabbing coffee with other youth leaders, I’d be looking for change in the youth room couch cushions…and while these are all good things to do, I had set up office hours for people to come and connect with me. If someone showed up and I was gone, I had wasted their time. As someone who does a lot of work not at my desk, I had to find a way to be where I said I’d be. It forced me to be better about organizing how I did my job and in doing so, it helped me do things quicker and better. Suddenly I had more time to dream up new programming and events. Best of all, when people dropped in to see me, I was there, busy and showing them what I’m getting paid for.
Remember that most of the people you work with and for are not teenagers. A Twitter DM is not the way to contact your church council president. Texting is not the way to tell your pastor you aren’t coming in today. Whatever ways of communication are popular with teens are likely not the appropriate or professional avenues to connect with parents or staff. And remember that you are writing letters to adults, not snapchatting with teens, so use complete sentences, proofread so you spell everything correctly and sign it with your name. It takes a few extra seconds at most, and it makes a big difference in your communication.
This may seem trivial or petty, but you are doing a job. In some cases, getting paid to do it too. If these few changes can help you gain support from the congregation for your ministry, why wouldn’t you do them? And if you are a church employee, in this time of uncertainty and downsizing, remember that you are hired to do a job – bring the Gospel to youth. Even though it can feel like we are paid to do laser tag, eat pizza, wear dirty t-shirts and sleep till noon, we’re actually hired to change the lives of the teens we encounter and that is a big responsibility.
Being professional about it is a great way to show your teens, their parents, church members and other staff that you take it personally and respect the call.
Kellen Roggenbuck has been a youth leader and ministry consultant for over a decade and is a regular contributor to the YOUTH WORKER JOURNAL and GROUP Magazine. He went to college to be a Music Educator but has found his calling in youth ministry. Kellen lives outside Milwaukee with his wife and son, who both think his jokes aren’t nearly as funny as he thinks they are.
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.