Heard a quote today through the FB posting of a friend (Thanks, @bradfiscus): “The needs of the students must drive your ministry not the needs of the campus (youth) minister.” – Marilyn Thornton (Marilyn is the Wesley Foundation Director at Fisk University.)
Maybe it’s because of the conversations I’ve had today, or perhaps it’s born of a decade of coaching churches and youth workers, but this quote hit me hard. Why? You might hate me for what I’m about to say, but I think I’ve had it up to here (my hand at my eyeballs) with focusing so much attention on a poor performing youth worker that the students themselves slip through the cracks of the ministry.
Before you egg my house, hear me out. I am an uber fan of working with churches to sharpen the skills of their youth workers. It’s how I fill the majority of my days as Sr. Consultant for Mark DeVries’ Ministry Architects. Along with that, I am not a fan AT ALL of just firing a youth worker without systematic evaluations that provide positive ways to improve. It hurts the church, the students, the youth worker, and their family. When a youth worker is regularly assessed and action steps carried through, it’s a wonderful thing. Not only does the youth worker get better, but so does the church in their responsibility of providing a successful, sustainable youth ministry.
Here’s where the opening quote comes in: Occasionally a church will get so caught up in the back and forth of unhappiness surrounding the youth program, it eventually eclipses the students’ needs. Everyone is scared of the political fallout from dealing with a perceived less-than-desirable staff member. Drama ensues, the “he said/she said” gossip abounds, so many feelings are hurt, hours are spent on the whole thing, people leave the church, and the youth ministry grinds to a screeching halt.
The result? Students are hurt. The adults think they’re hiding the reality and don’t realize the students are hearing/seeing it all and are hurt by it. Yet, we wonder why our youngest generations are leaving the church in droves when they become adults. Who wants a piece of that?
“The needs of the students must drive the ministry, not the needs of the campus minister.” So what does this look like? It means pro-active work on the part of church leadership to set up the most sustainable youth worker. Vision, mission, systems, discipleship path, goals, etc., must all be in place BEFORE hiring so that the church brings on a youth workers who fits the church, not expecting a youth worker to make the job what he needs/wants it to be. It means putting together a search committee who does their research so that the best hire possible happens. It means regular, helpful evaluations take place, not just when something goes wrong. It means providing a work climate where the youth worker can succeed and grow. It means getting the youth worker help sooner than later in the form of training or coaching if a problem arises.
The church, through its leadership, is the architect of the youth ministry blueprints. Church leaders, the quality of the youth ministry begins with you.