There is a local bookstore in my city that has become my second office. I love books. Many people in ministry love books. This assessment seems to hold up in my local context, because this bookstore is frequented by many other ministers from around the community. As productive as I can be, surrounded by books in a comforting environment, one of my favorite parts about working in this space is that it provides the opportunity for interruption — oftentimes the interruption from a ministry friend.
When I use the phrase “ministry friend” I mean to describe another person in ministry outside of my immediate context. These friends are specific to ministry. Sure, they can overlap into your social sphere, but most often they are men and women who work in churches different than yours, representing other denominations, and sometimes working in different roles. It could be the pastor from the Presbyterian church, or the community life director from the Baptist church.
For our purposes, however, I want to focus on the particular encouragement available with ministry friends who are fellow youth workers.
Why are Ministry Friends Important?
Ministry, as a whole, can be a lonely place. Yet working in youth ministry can lead to a unique and acute loneliness. After all, you are charged with leading a demographic of people who are much younger than you. This naturally affects your type of connection. Your students need more than a buddy. They need a shepherd who cares for them, provides them nourishment, and protects them from Satan’s latest tactics.
Being a youth worker is a particular work to a particular people who have particular needs. It requires unique attention and discernment.
Going on walks, attending games and recitals, guiding weary souls through the drama of high school makes perfect sense to us youth ministers. It’s what God has called us to. We see it as a privilege to be invited into the inner recesses of our — often hardened — student’s lives. However, at least in my own experience, being a youth minister is utterly peculiar to my friends, spouse, and even my other church staff co-workers.
This reality makes that coffee interruption even more magical. You know, that experience where you sit across the table from a fellow minister and you don’t even have to say anything but you just know. You can laugh about how the game from this past week totally flopped. You can lament the busy schedules and the perceived lack of commitment. You can see the exhaustion in the bags under your friend’s eyes and encourage one another to keep fighting the good fight. You can remember, together, that youth ministry is a hard work but a worthy work.
When God created man in his image, He created us for deep connection (Gen 2:18). We are creatures who desire to be known and loved and by God’s grace we experience that through loving friendships, marriages, and family. I think ministry friends deserve their own category in God’s gracious provision, primarily because these friends are equipped to preach the gospel to me in unique ways. These friends remind me that my hard heart needs the same saving grace as my wayward students’ hearts need. These friends remind me that through Jesus’ finished and victorious work on the cross I am washed and made clean, righteous and forgiven, an adopted child of God. These friends remind me that my student ministry is in fact God’s ministry and that his word will accomplish its purpose, despite my bumbling over my words (Isaiah 55:11).
There is a great temptation in ministry for “the gospel” to become white-noise — everywhere, but nowhere. And when this happens I am thankful to have ministry friends who are quick to remind me afresh of the glory and majesty of the good news of Jesus. I need it as much as my students do.
Ministry friends are unique and important, but how do we find them?
How to Cultivate Ministry Friends
You can’t force people to be your friends, nor can you force them into bookstores, but there are ways that you can work to build friendships with others in your sphere of ministry. This will require humility and the laying down of less important things while holding fast to the most important things. Here are a few ways that I have found ministry friends.
- Reach out to another youth minister in your area and ask them to coffee or lunch. Be honest about your motivations and mention that you simply want to get to know other ministers in town. There can sometimes be a sense of competition between local youth ministries, particularly if you are pulling from the same school district. I’ve found that these meetings have a way of disarming that animosity and uniting ministers (as well as their ministries) who both desire students to know and love Jesus. It’s worth it to prioritize time out of your busy schedule to learn about another ministry and the person leading it. You will surely learn something new and it might surprise you how much you have in common!
- Plan an event with another like-minded youth ministry. Last semester we played a kickball game against another youth group on the backend of Thanksgiving break. The kids loved it and we plan on making it a yearly tradition. This semester we are doing a service project with the same youth group. The youth minister from this church has become one of my best ministry friends, even as we minister in very different worship contexts. We really believe that planning and participating in these events has reinforced the unifying reality of the gospel to our students.
- Join a Rooted Regional Group. Rooted’s regional groups meet all over the United States to be equip and foster fellowship among youth workers. The RRG’s literally exist to help you cultivate ministry friends. If there is one in your area, join it! If there isn’t, consider starting a chapter.
Rest in Jesus Your Friend
Friendship, in general, is hard. That is a whole other article. Don’t be discouraged if finding ministry friends proves more difficult than it seems. It’s worth it to work for it, but you can’t force it. And even when you find great friends, they can’t satisfy fully the ache in our heart to be fully known and loved.
The good news we all must rest in is that we serve a God who has befriended us in Jesus. He is truly all we need. Regardless of our circumstances, he who knows you, also loves you, and never leaves you. He laid down his life for you, to demonstrate his perfect love and to save you (John 15:13). Ministry friends are a wonderful grace but they should never outstrip our quest for ever deeper friendship with the person who knows us best. Keep fighting the good fight, friend.