What I’ve Learned in My First 10 Years of Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
July 3rd, 2016

Kyle’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.

It’s been a privilege to be in youth ministry for more than ten years.

I started out making less than $20K, living in a garage apartment and just barely getting by. When I asked for my wife’s hand in marriage, I was asked in return, “When do you plan on getting a real job?” In many ways, I’ve seen it all. But I also get this feeling from time to time that I’m actually just beginning to see it all for the first time.

Youth ministry has been a gift in my life, and I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. The grass isn’t greener.

I spent a lot of time in my early years of ministry wishing someone would let me take the reins so I could really show what I could do. I was constantly looking for greener pastures where I could really make a difference in the lives of young people if only the church would ________ (fill in the blank).

Here’s what I know now: the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. I finally heard Jesus telling me I needed to stop yearning for something better and figure out how to minister to the people he placed me with. It might be time for you to dig in and figure out how to love the people God has called you to.

[bctt tweet=”Stop yearning for something better and figure out how to minister to those you’ve been placed with. ” username=”ys_scoop”]

  1. I’m incredibly limited.

In my first church, I had the benefit of watching two youth pastors leave. During this process, one thing stood out: when they left, the youth group crumbled. I eventually took over this position, and as I picked up the pieces, I quickly realized I couldn’t do it alone. My number one goal became to work myself out of a job. I knew I couldn’t reach all the students and their families, and I knew I didn’t want to leave and have the group crumble again. Recruiting, training, and equipping volunteers became my number one priority.

[bctt tweet=”Embrace your limitations, and multiply your effectiveness through other leaders.” username=”ys_scoop”]

  1. Parents are incredible allies.

Early in my ministry I realized that I was limited in how well I could reach students if I couldn’t reach their families. I get students for only an hour a week—they’re at home much more than that. There’s no greater influence in a student’s life than their parents. This is why I moved from high school to middle school ministry—I wanted more access to parents. Over the past several years, I’ve devoted a significant amount of time to figuring out ways to get to know parents better so I can better partner with them.

[bctt tweet=”There’s no greater influence in a student’s life than their parents.” username=”ys_scoop”]

  1. Structure matters.

Sitting above my desk is an Andy Stanley quotation that says, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to achieve the results you are currently getting.” In youth ministry we can make a lot of excuses—kids are too busy, I need more volunteers, these parents won’t work with me here—but the reality is that your ministry is structured in a way that keeps you from getting the results you want. In both churches I’ve served at, we’ve taken great—and risky—steps to revamp structures and programs to achieve our desired outcomes. How you plan to keep kids safe, how you recruit and train volunteers, and how your programs and calendars line up with your values and outcomes are all examples of structures to create or redesign. It’s hard work and not always instantly rewarding, but structures do matter.

[bctt tweet=”Your ministry is perfectly designed to achieve the results you are currently getting.” username=”ys_scoop”]

  1. Trust your gut.

When you have a feeling that something isn’t quite right in a situation, you might need to trust your instincts. I’ve heard several different youth pastors say, “I knew there was something off about that situation—I wish I would have trusted my gut.” In your ministry, health will breed health. However, a toxic situation can you cost you a lot—if not everything.

[bctt tweet=”Health will breed health and a toxic situation can you cost you a lot—if not everything.” username=”ys_scoop”]

  1. It’s completely worth it.

Sure, you might be able to make more money elsewhere, parents aren’t always easy to get along with, and church politics can be difficult to manage. However, not much compares to pointing kids toward Jesus, seeing lives transformed, and sharing the gospel with a student for the first time. After all these years, there’s not much else I could imagine doing.

Kyle Bender has been in full-time ministry for more than 10 years. You can follow Kyle on his blog parentingthoughts.com. Kyle, his wife, and their three daughters live in Austin, Texas.




Youth Specialties

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.