3 things I would tell 22-year-old me about Youth Ministry

Do you have a mentor?  I'm talking about someone 10 or more years older than you that invests time in your life?  A good mentor is like having a time machine.  It is as if you can skip ahead in the story to look back and see what you could have done differently.  I'm not a fan of that show with the time-traveling telephone booth about an unknown Doctor, but I AM a fan of that MOVIE with the time-traveling telephone booth...

Many of us dream of the opportunity to go back and change something.  Or at the very least we wish to simply know the trick on how to thrive in the moment we are in.

This week, I'm asking the question:

"If I were my own mentor, what would I say to 22-year-old me about...

Ministry (Monday), Creating (Wednesday), and Family (Friday)?"

3 Things I would say to about Youth Ministry to a 22-year-old

1. Laugh more than anyone else.

As the Youth Pastor you can get away with a LOT in the name of fun and 'being relevant'.  There is a fable going around of an event we ran for Jr.Highers in which they were encouraged to throw a cow-tongue to each other on a field and try to score a point by throwing said tongue through another person's arms standing on a chair.  The many times I've heard this story come up there is inevitably a comment about me rolling on the ground in uncontrollable laughter during the game. That of all things, is what stands out in the memories of those who were there.  Laughter.

When you make others laugh, you will become known for being a person of joy, typically people want to be around joyful people. The spiritual journey is not meant to be a serious. So, when you are leading a conversation and that boy accidentally farts so loud it drowns out the speakers...take a break, recognize the giggles, and let those with you know that they are in a safe place.  Laughter breaks down barriers, it makes friends of enemies, and radically changes how someone thinks back on a moment in her life. 

Dear Youth Worker: Laugh often!  Find joy in the mess of ministry.  

2. Spend time developing people not products

One December many years ago I distinctly remember spending at least 3 hours one Wednesday afternoon - before the Jr.High Program - stapling twinkle lights on the wall in the (indistinguishable) shape of the phrase "Merry Christmas".  

There are easily over 50 times I closed the door and turned my chair so I could focus more on the teaching for later that night than the 4 teens that had come early to help out...often they left to get food which left me some peace and quiet. 

And if I had a dollar for every year I was worn out by the time the end of year banquet actually began because I was sweating throughout the day putting up the decorations alone...I'd have 7 dollars.  

Dear Youth Worker: The balloons, the videos, the lights, the messages, the games, the lights, and the transitions will never be worth the time spent developing them at the expense of developing relationships with teens and leaders. The people you will still talk to years later are those that you spent significant time with, ate with, and listened to through the years.  Your job is not to impress the people you minister to, but to invest in them. 

3.  Live as much like Jesus as you can

Truthfully I'm not sure if it was arrogance or fear, but something consistently led me to love having the opportunity to give people answers about God, the Bible, the Spiritual Journey in general.  I would encourage teens to ask me questions, but only about things I had an answer to. I was fresh out of Bible College and ready to explode with God-Knowledge!  How is it possible that after centuries of the church and its highly educated leaders that only now was someone able to figure out the things I had come to understand?  I must have been really special.  Or ignorant. Probably ignorant. 

Dear Youth Worker: You will spend a lot of time encouraging others to live like God wants them to. The trouble is, that usually ends up sounding like a set of characteristics to live up to, which sound like heart-less rules to get God's attention, which is religion. You will do this because it's all that you know, you feel like it's your job to give teens the answers so their parents know they are getting something good from church (so they don't grow up thinking that Joan of Arc is Noah's Wife). Yet, if you focus on following the way of Jesus you will have patience, befriend the most sinful of the bunch, and tell more compelling stories! 

In the way of Jesus, Valuing their questions is far more important than filling them with answers.


Are you new to Youth Ministry?  A volunteer, your first job, or the glorious position of intern? 

These students need you. Not a clean system of programs and events.

So laugh with them.

Do your work ahead of time so you can be with them.

And show them what a Christ-Follower looks like, flaws and all. 


Next up, things I would say to 22-year-old Alex about Creating Things.