Cockiness in youth ministry is something I know about from personal experience.
In my thirties, I headed up a large youth ministry of about 200 students. We averaged 100 at youth on Sunday nights, not counting other students who participated on Sunday morning, Wednesday nights, and Friday nights. I had a team of 25 adult volunteers and we did big youth ministry. Other youth workers came to us to see what we were doing right. I was not a humble leader; I was “successful” (by numbers) and I let others know it. I wasn’t a denominational team player and scoffed at the idea of collaborating with others. When I was asked to speak anywhere, I was demanding and bragged. I can only imagine my level of obnoxiousness had there been Facebook and Twitter.
I was an idiot. It’s why I can easily recognize youth workers with a chip on their shoulder. No, not all of you; just some of you. Hold on for a second before you shrug it off and say, “That’s not me.” If you have thought, said, or done any of the below, you may be a little bit (or a lotta bit) prideful:
- Anyone in youth ministry more than 10 years longer than you doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
- Anyone in youth ministry more than 10 years older than you is out of touch.
- If your senior pastor was in youth ministry, he/she doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
- You’ve been in youth ministry less than many, yet you wonder why they’re speaking and you’re not.
- You’ve been in youth ministry less than many, yet you wonder why they’re consulting and you’re not.
- You’ve been in youth ministry less than many, yet you wonder why they’re published and you’re not.
- When someone in youth ministry gives you coaching tips, you roll your eyes. (Hopefully it’s while on the phone and not in person.)
- You spend a lot of time telling people what you’ve done and how well you’ve done it.
- You spend a lot of time listing all the ways your church would fall apart without you.
- You spend a lot of time listing all the ways you’re a better speaker/leader than your senior pastor.
Hear me when I say this: this is not an age thing. I’m not just talking about youth workers young in age, though a majority of the cocky ones are younger. Most of the younger ones haven’t been around long enough yet to have the inevitable “woodshed” moment that eventually comes to every youth worker. Honestly? There are some things only time and experience allow you to earn. Expertise comes with time and many tries, fails, and successes.
But there are also cocky older youth workers, and I think they’re the most frustrating. Why? Because they should know better, yet they’re often frustrated with their career. Somehow they’ve equated a broader visibility (writing, speaking, consulting, numbers) with success. They’ve had many solid years of youth ministry, but somehow it’s not enough. That makes me sad, and roll my eyes.
God’s Word says we should 1) humble ourselves and 2) know our gifts and live within them (1 Corinthians 12). No role in youth ministry is better than another. “Some are apostles, some are teachers, etc.”
But the cockiness? Stop it. It’s exhausting for you, me, and others. I’d like to save my eye-rolls for political memes on social media.
– Mama Caro