Dear First Year Youth Minister,
I know that one of the biggest questions and insecurities you face in your first year regards questions of credibility. You are probably in your early twenties, but to some, you look like you’re sixteen. You have a bachelor’s degree (and maybe even a graduate degree), but people talk to you like a high school student. You work sixty to seventy hours per week, but people still ask you if you’re paid for your job. (You resist the temptation to say, “By third world standards, yes.”) You take your position seriously as you plan, study, relate, manage, encourage, budget, teach, counsel, and basically fulfill the management functions of the director of a non-profit organization, and yet people ask you what you are going to do when you grow up, as if you play kickball eight hours per day. In essence, you are an adult with a very serious job, but often people condescendingly patronize you as if you are one of the kids you lead. They talk about your calling as if you do little more than entertain and babysit.
Meanwhile, you face the reality that you have little experience. You probably have not attended seminary and need to deepen in your biblical and theological knowledge. You see a great deal of education in adolescent psychology and pastoral counseling. You may be finding your way in the “real world” for the first time as a young adult.
Be encouraged: You have credibility. What you do is important; it is serious business. You have authority in your space. But from where does this authority and credibility come?
1.) God chose you for the job.
You approached accepting your position prayerfully. You discerned God’s will for your next career step. While the church offered you a position, God ultimately called you to the position and you followed. He did not make a mistake. He has plans and intentions for your ministry. A great quote that I like to lean on is that “God equips the called; he doesn’t necessarily call the equipped.”
2.) God gave you gifts.
The Lord gave you gifts for such a position, or else you likely would not have received the job. The leaders that offered you the position saw an ability in you to relate to students, a maturity in your faith, and a level of responsibility such that they would not trust you to take other people’s precious children on trips. While you do need to develop those gifts, understand that God graciously gave them to you.
3.) God gave you the Holy Spirit.
Whether you have been in ministry for eight days or eighteen years, you ultimately sink or swim based on your dependence on the Holy Spirit. God is with you in the Holy Spirit; you are not alone. Christ encouraged his disciples in John 16, by saying, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” You will face impossible situations. You will teach Bible lessons without any clue whether they are efficacious. You will grow weak and discouraged. Understand that the Holy Spirit will work in measures infinitely greater than what you ever will know in this life. The Holy Spirit will minister to your teens. You simply need to trust Him in every step and faithfully follow him to what He calls.
4.) You are the foremost expert on ministry to teenagers in your church.
Within about six months, you will be the expert on ministry to teenagers in your church. It is unlikely that any parent, pastor, or volunteer will know as much as you do. Your life will involve dozens of conversations with teens, where you are on the front row to the ever-evolving youth culture. You will spend weeks and weekends on trips with them. You may attend youth ministry conferences. You may read blogs and magazines about youth ministry. Trust me: you will be the expert, and it will happen fast. Take ownership of this and use this gift to help parents understand how to love and disciple their adolescent. Help your pastors understand the mentality of the youth in your church, so that their sermons and teachings will connect with the younger crowd.
5.) You are enough; you are not enough.
You will wrestle with feelings of inadequacy right from the beginning. The reason for this is because as a sinner without the Lord, you are hopelessly inadequate in your position. Recall, though, that Christ has imputed his righteousness on you. Christ has perfected you in God’s eyes. You have nothing to prove and nobody to impress, because you are enough before the Lord by the righteousness of Jesus. You must constantly remember your adoption as a daughter or son of God, and that his grace is enough for you and your ministry.