My first youth ministry job was an interim position that lasted for over a year. I was a college student who felt called into ministry, and was more than sure that I was ready for the task of leading this group of students. This often meant money was spent without thought, events planned without purpose, and decisions made without consultation and communication. Thankfully the church was gracious, and I had a great team surrounding me.
When the church hired a new youth minister, a brother who had a decade of experience in the work, I stayed on for two months to help integrate him into the ministry and the students. That was what was supposed to happen. In reality, I underwent a bootcamp in how to lead a youth ministry with wisdom in utilizing professional skills. Even now, this friend still points me towards the necessary wisdom in leading well.
For those of us called into youth ministry, we receive the wonderful task of coming alongside parents to help them raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). This is a spiritual work and an important work, and it is often a fun work. The youthfulness of students adds vibrancy and excitement to the work! Truly, the work of ministry is a joyful work.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that the work of ministry is, indeed, work. The work of ministry requires professional skills just like any other job, and the failure to demonstrate these skills in the work of ministry will often lead to frustration on the part of parents and co-workers, as well as to missing out on the full potential of what a ministry could do with and for students. Below are a few professional skills that youth ministers need in order lead their ministry in wisdom.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems youth ministers face is getting so wrapped up in the day-to-day and week-to-week work that they fail to look forward and plan for what they hope to their ministry will achieve and do over the course of one school year, a whole middle and high school career, or more.
Youth ministers should routinely, perhaps quarterly or once per semester, sit down with their team and ask themselves what they hope students will know, feel, and be equipped to do over the course of their time in youth ministry in the short and long term. Once these objectives are identified, the youth ministry team should ask how can they achieve these goals.
If you hope that students will be able to discern false teaching on social media, how do you plan to teach or foster such discernment? If you hope that students will be able to clearly communicate the gospel to their classmates, how do you plan on teaching them and giving them space to practice? It is one thing to say we just want to teach them the gospel, it is another to plan for how the gospel will be communicated and demonstrated in your ministry. Long-term planning gives legs to the great hopes we may have for our students.
A pastor friend of mine recently remarked that your bank statement is a spiritual document. It reveals what you value and what you worship. The same can be said of your youth ministry budget. How you spend your budget reveals what your priorities are in your ministry planning. If the youth minister fails to plan with the year in mind and is given an annual budget, this can lead to haphazard spending that leaves the ministry struggling for money when it needs it most. Budgeting requires taking stock of plans and priorities and appropriating the resources needed for all of them in tandem with one another.
At times, this will mean that uncomfortable and unpopular cuts must be made in order to preserve the flexibility to do something further down the line. Or it may look like spending more on something that seems small knowing it will make an outsized impact. In every way, budgeting requires wisdom in order to steward the Lord’s gifts in the Lord’s way.
Communication of Vision and Values
All long-term planning and budgeting is ultimately a reflection of the vision and values that guide your ministry. Unless made to do so, many ministers likely do not have a coherent philosophy of ministry that guides ministry decisions. It might seem like a waste of time initially, but the long-term effects for both the minister and the ministry will be telling. Having clearly outlined vision and values as a guiding principle of your ministry act as guardrails. A lack of guardrails can lead to the ministry veering off the path, going the wrong direction, or hurdling off a mountain, but well outlined guardrails lead to the destination.
Parents and students in your ministry will either guess at what the vision and values are, or they will learn them from what your actions communicate they are. Moreover, the team of leaders around you needs to know what they are working towards and what growth they are hoping to see in the students. Therefore, it is crucial that the youth minister regularly communicate the vision and values in discipleship with students and meetings with parents. This will enable everyone to walk hand-in-hand in the same direction and assess their progress and direction along the way.
Responsibility and Reliability
Responsibility can often be a skill we wish we could just pass off and say, “The buck stops there!” There are times when you or someone else on your team will drop the ball. As the leader of the ministry this will often require the humility and leadership ability to bear the responsibility even when it was not directly your fault. It will be easier to cast blame on others or seek to justify yourself. But admitting fault, seeking forgiveness, and planning for the next instance where this failure might occur demonstrates maturity and seeks reconciliation with those effected. Regularly bearing responsibility in this way sets the standard for long-term working relationships and ensures that the balls that have been dropped do not get dropped again.
A major part of being responsible is being reliable. People often tend to over-commit, over-promise, and under-deliver. Even in small things, this creates ripple effects that can build barriers to effective ministry to families and students.
If you tell a student that you will be at her play but do not go, she will begin to expect you won’t show up for more important moments. If you promise a family that you will get back with them on some concerns they have and do not, they will begin to believe that you either do not care enough to make it a priority or you are dishonest. Reliability requires wisdom in accepting tasks and scheduling out time. It often requires a good bit of saying no, but it ultimately communicates deep care for the people who are relying on you.
Wisdom in All Things
This may seem tedious and uninspiring, but it is ultimately a matter of wisdom. If we want students to be rooted and built up in Christ, established in the faith, then we must seek to steward our resources, including our time, in such a way that works towards that end. Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Shumacher define wisdom in their book Worthy as, “the skill of choosing the right course of action that will best eventuate in demonstrating love and commitment to God.” The failure to utilize professional skills in ministry is actually a failure in the area of wisdom. God has given us a wonderful work. It is the job of the minister to utilize the wisdom of his Word and his world to lead students in love and commitment to God.