During the summers in between high school and college I made money painting houses. My boss was tough. She made me refold drop clothes that were not folded to her standards. Any paint drips on your hands or excessive paint on your brush deserved a scolding. If a room was not prepped properly she would make me do the entire thing over. Again, she was tough; however, it was due to her high standards. She emphasized excellence and made sure her employees embraced that same value. I learned how to approach situations, and projects slowly and carefully. Mistakes were just not acceptable.
Unfortunately, mistakes are imminent. Because of your human nature and the messiness of youth ministry, mistakes are likely to occur. Why do they occur? Some will happen no matter how hard you work and concentrate. Then there are the other mistakes that could have been avoided. The reason you make certain avoidable mistakes is because you:
- Over Promise To Please: No one likes to disappoint others; therefore, the temptation to lie in order to please is strong. The worst thing you can do is to promise something you have no idea how to fulfill. You try to fool yourself into thinking, “I’ll figure it out.” or “God will show me a way.“; but that’s like playing with fire. Make the promises you know you can keep and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If you really don’t know the answer.
- Never Build In Margin: When you have margin you can slow down the pace of what needs to be done. Many times when you are in a rush you make mistakes. You forget paperwork for a trip, you stumble through a message or you water down what should have been a memorable experience. When you build margin into your events, trips or programs you give yourself the capacity to do the tasks at a higher level.
- Go Solo In Your Ministry: When you do things on your own you end up putting an unfair amount of pressure on yourself. Even if you are young and quick thinking eventually the work will catch up with you. It will become too much to handle and somewhere you’ll slip. Share the burden with others by delegating and asking for assistance. You will be surprised to discover who will come to your side to help you increase your capacity and lift the level of your ministry.
If you try to avoid mistakes you’ll only find yourself disappointed. Mess ups happen when you take risks, when the movement of your ministry is overwhelming and when Satan attacks. When those happen be sure to guard and surround yourself with God’s love and wisdom. It’s those mistakes that are avoidable that move us in the wrong direction. If you are embracing discipline and proper preparation than you’ll continue stumble and fall.
What other avoidable mistakes do you see in ministry?
For some reason my first two years in youth ministry were a lot like my first two years in middle school. I wanted the teens to like me; therefore, I ran my ministry in the way that I thought they would want. Each week was designed to entertain them. I wanted them to bring their friends; however, I was going about it in the wrong way. In the end more energy went into the activities, and food then it did into the content of the program. Attendance was inconsistent, leaders moved on to other ministries and I was frustrated. I was playing it safe.
No one truly enjoys conflict; however, it is something everyone should seek. That’s not to say you should go pick a fight or challenge someone to a duel (Look what happened to Alexander Hamilton). If you want your teens and leaders to grow, you need to have a ministry looking to expand and challenge itself. That means knowing your limits, and having the willingness to cross the line from time to time. A youth ministry willing to take risks is an attractive one; however, it’s not as simple as doing whatever wows the crowd. To successfully push the limits of your ministry and grow in new ways you must:
- Seek Wisdom – There are lines to be crossed and ones that should never be approached. To know where to push, pull and bend you need to make sure you are seeking wisdom of others and God’s direction. True risk takers are the ones who know what boundaries to work within and which ones to bust through. Before you cross the line make sure you know why.
- Do It With Excellence – If you are going to take a risk or throw out a challenge make sure you are well prepared. Most challenges never take because it was poorly communicated. If you want teens to follow through and understand deep truths make sure it’s as clear as day. If you want to better your odds of success make sure your plan is well thought out and everyone is on the same page.
- Display Humility – If you mess up, admit it. Nothing is worst than a leader who acts as though they are right despite all the evidence showing that they are not. If you make a mistake in your ministry and own up to it, the teens will appreciate your humility and authenticity more than your perfection.
- Team Up – Never take a risk on your own because the burden of failure is a heavy one. On top of seeking other people’s wisdom, see if you can share responsibility in the task. With a team you can develop a better plan, with more strength.
People want a leader who will challenge them with confidence and humility. They want someone who is willing to take on new things; however admit when they are wrong. Your ministry is designed to challenge students in the messages you give. It is designed to have an impact in the community with the projects you take on. To do big things you need to think big and believe big. Youth ministry is meant to test new waters, try new things and break through old paradigms.
How are you crossing the line in your youth ministry?
Over a year ago I started co-leading a men’s small group. I wasn’t sure what my wife would think. I wondered because the group was to meet at 6:15am in our house. Fortunately we have a finished basement and because the group rotates host homes she had no issues with it. In fact we’ve both benefited from this men’s group more than what I’ve put into it. Each week I have a group of men, representing different generations pouring into me.
This group not only helps me as a son of God, but a husband, father and youth minister. In a career field that can receive a lot of criticism and adversity, it’s in my small group that I receive solace, encouragement and strength.
If you are in youth ministry you need people pouring into you because you are constantly emptying yourself out for others. Extroverted or introverted, this is a calling that will suck you dry if you don’t have the correct support system. The problem with forming this support system is that many of us don’t know what one looks like. An ideal support system needs to have different level of support. Your support system should include most if not all of the following:
- Small Group – While any small group will work, my recommendation is that you find one that is same sex and made up of different generations. The reason for diverse generations is because you need wisdom that is both spiritual and experiential. And, the reason for same sex is because there are some issues that can only go so deep with the opposite sex (Unless that person is your spouse). In the end you need a small group because your faith and confidence will grow as people pray for you and share life with you.
- Network Of In The Trenches Workers – There are only so many books and blogs that you can read (Hopefully this one is on the list), eventually you will need living and breathing support from the men and women who understand your world. It’s in a network of youth ministers that you can not only share battle stories, but learn from veterans who have traveled the road you are trudging through.
- Professional Coach – Just because what you are doing is ministry doesn’t mean it can’t be professional. There is so much a youth minister needs to know when it comes to conduct and procedures in the workplace. A professional coach will help you understand interpersonal relationships in an office setting. They will help you approach contract negotiations, when to leave and how to grow in your career field. They are the perfect source to go to when you have questions about managing volunteers or asking for a salary increase.
- Spiritual Coach – Working in a church doesn’t make you spiritual, in fact you need someone holding you accountable. While you might rely on your pastor to do this, it’s best to have someone with an outside perspective. You need someone who is going to give you exercises that will challenge the depth of your relationship with God. They will be essential when the lines between work and personal growth are blurred.
Your most important support systems should come from family and friends. It’s also important to have support from your pastor. However, you can’t put all the pressure on them, and you’ll also need the wisdom and advice of people looking in from the outside. The more support you can gather around yourself the more confidence you will build. And when you are confident in yourself, in God and the people around you, you will thrive.
What other support systems surround you?
As Hurricane Sandy works her way through the Northeast I shudder thinking about pass storms that have affected my house. This summer there was the Derecho and last year Hurricane Irene that ravaged my little neighborhood. Fortunately, there wasn’t any serious damage to my house; however, riding out those storms was a nerve wracking experience.
In your ministry there will be moments when you need to ride out a storm. Maybe it’s just busyness that you are facing or maybe it’s a tragedy that hits the community. No one likes to go through these moments because they are emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausting. To endure the storms in ministry you need to make sure you have:
A Support Team – It’s easy to focus on the task at hand and shut everyone out when facing an issue. When you face a problem on your own you put the burden completely on your shoulders. You need to have people who will pray for you, advise you and help you out when you are in over your head.
Arsenal Of Resources – If you have a hurting teen do you know who to refer them to? If you are dealing with a busy season, do you have a schedule to keep you focused? Having an arsenal of resources is having a plan for the situation you are facing. While you cannot prepare for every situation, you need to make sure you prepare for as many as you can.
Faith In The Lord – In the end it’s God who is going to give you what you need to persevere. Setting aside time to check in with him is important because you’ll feel his presence. You need to open yourself to his grace, love, strength and wisdom.
No matter what you are facing you can’t go at it alone. Even if you’ve been through several different storms in your ministry you need to make sure you lean on God and focus on what he’s given you. While youth ministry is tough, you can persevere and witness the fruit of your labor.
How do you endure storms in student ministry?
In my first few years of youth ministry I had a little ritual. After a long Sunday of youth ministry I would hit the diner with some of my fellow volunteer ministers and coworkers. It was a little tradition that involved rehashing the day, gravy fries and a cup of coffee. The next morning, despite feeling sore and tired, I would pull myself out of bed and go for a run. It was all a process to clear my mind and wind down after what is the busiest day of the week. No matter how long you’ve been in youth ministry, when it’s your time to speak, teach, and hang out with the teenagers the emotions and energy will wipe you out.
Youth ministry is exhausting emotionally, spiritually and physically. It’s easy to feel drained and that’s what will lead to burnout and resentment. How you bounce back is paramount to how long you will last. If you don’t have a strategy and let the moments, memories and emotions stay inside you won’t survive. You need to have a strategy that helps you bounce back and get in gear for the next week. That plan should include:
People To Lean On: Whether it’s a positive or negative, you need people you can share your experiences with. When it’s positive you can use the affirmation from others to build you up. When it’s negative you can make sure there are others to lift you up and point you in the right direction. (Read more here on the type of people you need to lean on)
Moments To Reflect: Engaging in some hobby, activity or recording your thoughts are all different ways to process a situation. Many times after an event in our lives we want to move onto the next; however, if we move to quickly we might miss out on some huge opportunities. Taking the time to reflect means giving yourself the opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself.
A Routine To Physically Recover: Believe it or not youth ministry can be physically exhausting. I now come home, sit with my wife to chat, go to bed, sleep in a little, eat a hearty breakfast and go for a run. Schedule a routine for your mornings where you can get some physical rest. I’m not saying you have to sit still, but do something that refreshes you and builds back the margin. (Here is a post on how to build more margin)
Giving The Situation Over To God: Depending on the night you are going to be filled with an array of emotions, thoughts and ideas. Some of these moments are good and need to be celebrated with God. Others will eat away at you and need to be offered up in prayer. Lean into His grace and embrace His love.
The way you bounce back from a long night of ministry is by having a plan, a team and time to hand it over to God. If you are holding in the emotions and releasing it in unhealthy ways you’ll find yourself growing tired quickly.
Do you have a routine? If so, what does it involve?