Comforting Words for New Youth Ministers – Part 1

This series seeks to provide comfort and guidance for new youth ministers. The series includes narratives from youth ministers in their first year of ministry,  perspectives from those who just have finished their first year, and advice from veteran youth ministers to rookies. 

I never thought I’d be a youth minister, now I’m six weeks into to my first ministry job. When I was in high school, I thought it was weird for the bearded, 20-something guy to come eat cafeteria lunch with my friends, so I avoided youth group. Now I’m that weird bearded guy.

There is more to this new work than acceptance of my new identity as a youth minister. In addition to seeing myself as a youth minister, I must be a youth minister, and this being involves worry. Yes, the work is fun and important and thrilling, but what worried youth minister needs to hear that his work is great and exciting? With worry, there are many more questions than answers and so is the following.

After I’ve told my friends that I work as a youth minister, they soon ask, “So what do you do during the week?” I begin to panic and start my stumble through an answer. What is my schedule? I hoped for something that didn’t fit the M-F, 9-5 desk job, but what is this? I work nights and weekends. My afternoons are spent watching field hockey and football games. My days may have a share of reading and planning and emails, but then I find a Wednesday morning or Thursday afternoon when there is no work to be done. For me, the weekly refrain is, “Am I doing enough?” How do you begin to answer this question? Enough for what?

On a Sunday morning, I ask teenagers, “How are you doing?” Every answer, “I am so tired.” Then the bible study that is sunday school is a dealing with catatonic eyes and pregnant silences. Reminds me of the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Anyone? Anyone?”  I’ve come to the church because desperate need in my life. What do these teenagers desperately need? Sometimes I think they just need a nap.

Another difficulty is entering these families’ lives. Is my knocking on their doors welcome, or is youth group another activity thrown on top of their complicated and busy calendars? I wonder how many spam folders my emails go into. Scheduling just one weekly hour for youth group is a tough enough chore. It’s actually impossible. There is no time that works for all the teenagers at our church. There’s a soccer practice or baseball game or even a viola lesson. Is youth group interfering with their lives, or are their commitments interfering with youth group?

So these are a couple observations of the deficiencies in my youth ministry, places where I feel: “That there could improve,” or, “I could try harder here.” Jesus says in Matthew, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I have this idea of the perfect youth ministry. My first efforts in youth ministry largely expose the failure to be perfect or even good. Trying to be excellent in these categories is like trying not to be angry. It’s as impossible as finding the right time in the week to have youth group.

Comfortable words of Christ are also found in Matthew’s Gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” My ways of evaluation no longer apply to my work. I could only measure the amount of flour, but I could not distinguish or quantify the leaven that is spread throughout. My success is not how many kids show up or how many hours each week they do youth-related activities. The kingdom is about the good news, though it may start small, working its way through all of our lives.

Brooks Tate serves as youth director at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA. He is a native of Nashville, TN and graduate of the University of Virginia.