Binoculars are a funny thing to me. Our family only ever owned one pair. I can think of reasons someone would want some: bird watching, hunting, making sure your students survived the downhill slip-and-slide. I think I’ve used our pair one time. I’m pretty sure it was at a football game. A mirror though, I use every day. We have tons of them in our house. Most are decorative, a few are purely functional. I watch myself brush my teeth a lot. I also see how many spots I can miss while shaving. In normal life, I use a mirror WAY more than binoculars. When studying the Bible, unfortunately, I find myself using binoculars much more than a mirror. Many of us study the Bible looking through a pair of binoculars. What I mean is, most of us study the Bible in order to teach someone else the truth we’re learning. This is fine, but most of the time we miss studying the Bible through a mirror. Usually we’re so busy studying the Bible for other people that we rarely look at it for ourselves. This is a trap too many youth ministers fall into. Myself included. The next time you’re studying the Bible in order to teach a lesson, try to see how you can apply the truth to your own life first. Not only will your own life be changed as a result of studying the Bible, the truth you try to teach others will mean that much more to you. When students see that the Bible has changed your life they will be more inclined to change their life based on the truth you teach. Next time you’re preparing a lesson ask yourself these questions: How does this change my life? Have I taken the advice I’m about to give my teenagers? Has this passage spoken to me personally? What would have to change in my life after studying this lesson?
One of the hallmarks of relational youth ministry is being available when someone has a need. When a parent is in crisis, when someone has an emergency, when there’s a relationship falling apart—each of these are times when students and families need you most.
This week we thought it might be good to talk about boundaries and principles to make sure you handle this important aspect of youth ministry in a way that helps those you serve without burning yourself out.
Build a great team of people who care.
If you’re alone doing ministry, you will fail. Sharing the load not only empowers volunteers to lead and use their gifts, it also allows you to multiply your care across the ministry. And few things wear on a youth worker like crisis management, so ensure you have energy for the big stuff by sharing the load on some of the smaller stuff!
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Care when there isn’t a crisis.
There’s nothing better than stopping by a student’s house “just because” or a dropping a simple card in the mail that conveys your love for them. Think of this as “preventative care” for your students—even when they aren’t in a crisis they know you care.
Drop everything in an emergency.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when something is truly an emergency but when a major crisis or catastrophe hits, drop everything to be there. When you show up in a difficult situation it will be remembered forever. The opposite is also true: If you don’t show up, it’s a huge mark on your reputation as a shepherd as well.
I am a closet youth ministry academic. In my 20+ years of youth ministry I continually strive to grow, learn, and mature. One of the benefits of reading, studying, and growing is that you can pass down what you’re learning to the volunteers in the ministry so that many can benefit from it. I’ve been studying and reading a LOT about volunteers. There is a ton of great writings/trainings/articles/books on the subject. A lot has been said about what a volunteer needs to be successful. The writings have been from the staff or ministry point of view. I haven’t seen much (if any at all) writing from the volunteer’s perspective about what they want/need/seek to help them be successful.
So I think some healthy conversations with our volunteers would be very helpful. I’ve entered into these conversations with the volunteers within our youth ministry. The following questions have been the most helpful, maybe they could be helpful conversation starters for you as well…
The first two questions seek their perspective on the ministry (and not just their performance).
Question #1. From your perspective, what are we really good at in our ministry?
Question #2. From your perspective, what could we improve on in our ministry?
The following two questions seek their perspective on what would help them be more sucessful in their role
Question #3. From your perspective, are we using volunteers within our youth ministry in such a way as to be completely faithful to God’s calling? If not, what would you add, change, or delete?
Question #4. Can you think of anything, anything at all, that could help you be more successful in your role within the youth ministry?
Question #5. What can I personally do, not do, or provide for you that would help you in your calling within our youth ministry?
The conversations I’ve been having have led to minor changes in the way we do things, in the way the volunteers are trained and encouraged, and in the way we minister to the youth. It’s important for you, the paid professional, to be teachable and open to all types of praises and criticisms.
It’s important that we provide vision, strategy, and leadership. But it’s also important that we include the volunteer’s perspective in all aspects of ministry.
Director of Youth and Young Adults
I really enjoyed both of the readings this week, and I struggled with writing this review. I mean, I thought the content was dead-on, but I guess it might have hit a little close to home. The area that caused me the most struggle was the area of pride.
Youth pastors are completely present in a world dominated by insecurities. Many teenagers struggle with these ideas, and many youth pastors are constantly fighting stigmas and stereotypes of being glorified babysitters and insignificant compared to their church’s “real pastor.”
Although most of us say it’s the depth of our ministry and not the numbers that truly count, we still all seem to struggle with the numbers. I’m constantly haunted by the numbers game in my mind, and it’s an area that’s hard for me to overcome.
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On the other hand, I have no issue with the idea that I’m to be constantly learning and growing—but I struggle in the doing part of this idea. I’m married and have four kids, and to be honest, I struggle just doing my daily devotions. I have a stack of books waiting for me to read that are all geared at helping me grow, yet in this current situation they’re completely useless—they’re just a stack of books.
One morning, a few weeks ago, I sat in the dentist’s chair as he scraped, drilled, and picked…among other things. I knew what the end result was to be, but I had no clue how he was going to get there. I tried my best to just relax and trust him. In essence, I placed the fate of my teeth in his hands.
Which is what parents do with us in our youth ministries: They put the spiritual well-being of their children in our hands. Not completely and exclusively, of course, as we youth ministers are supposed to complement and supplement the faith formation that is hopefully taking place at home (and in some cases at school).
But while their kids are at our youth gathering, prayer group, or service outing…the buck stops with us. For better or for worse.
Here are four ways that we can better minister to and with parents:
1. Provide regular updates. Parents have every right to know what is going on with their children. For the most part, parents are grateful for what we are doing as youth ministers and therefore don’t necessarily need to know every detail of every gathering. But regular correspondence with the parents will go a long way toward earning their trust. It could be in the form of face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls, newsletters, or a regular place in the church bulletin. The parents will be more apt to support us and our ministry if they are kept in the loop.
2. Earn the right to be heard. I’ve written at length before about the importance of earning the right to be heard when working with teens. That is, they won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. The same principle applies to parents. Admittedly, this will look different for parents than it does for teens—we simply aren’t afforded the same opportunities with parents with respect to time. But we can earn their trust through our work with their children. If they sense that we are competent, reliable, and most importantly, authentic and genuine, they will feel more comfortable with us and more likely to support us.
3. Ask them for help. Sometimes parents are willing and able to assist but they just don’t know how. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help from them especially given the time and energy you devote to their kids. For example, I’m aware of many churches that have parents (as opposed to the youth leaders) prepare the snacks for the youth ministry gatherings. Not only will parents feel more invested, the snacks will likely be of better quality. That’s how our parent ministry got started at my home church: I think the parents were sick of me feeding their kids Tang and potato chips. Sad but true.
Another example is getting parents to drive to outings. They might actually prefer to drive their own kids…and in many cases their vehicles are nicer than the youth leaders’… :p
4. Pray for them and with them. It seems obvious that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s sometimes challenging amidst the busyness of ministry, but I encourage you to carve out some time to pray for and with parents. As part of the religious education program I run at my home church, the parents meet in a side room to pray, talk, and eat while their children are in class. As a result, they feel a part of the parish community and are always willing to help.
We should never underestimate the huge responsibility that we have as youth leaders. Parents need to be able to communicate with us, rely on us, and trust us. When parents entrust their children into our hands, opportunities arise to serve together and further strengthen the community.
After all, many hands make light work!