Starting Fresh As A Youth Pastor

At my denominational gathering of Next Generational Leaders (a fancy name for those in ministry in the children’s, families, youth and young adult demographic) last week I was due to present a few reflections on starting fresh in ministry or a new ministry role. Unfortunately I came down with the flu (or man-flu, it’s a fine line) so I wasn’t able to actually present. However, not wanting to waste the time and thought put into it I have outlined what I was going to say below. Enjoy.

apple starting fresh

What happens when the honeymoon period that is beginning at a new church begins to fade into the distance?

Reality sets in.

Things don’t go as smoothly as they were at the start. The jobs seems bigger than expected. Some of the expectations now upon your shoulders aren’t what you enjoy doing. The role you thought you were given in the interview process doesn’t seem to be have been entirely accurate. You begin questioning your own skills and abilities for the job. Already you have people who don’t like you. You feel like you’re being watched in everything you do. The pressure seems to be rising, whether it’s real or not.

Welcome to ministry. 🙂 

In recent times there has been a changing of the guard within the Baptist Union of Victoria’s next generation ministries. A little survey conducted recently found that of the 74 Next Generational Leaders within the BUV surveyed, just over 20% were in their first year of a paid ministry role (they are either starting out or in a new ministry context). If you extend this time to 3 years the number rises to just over 40%. That is a lot of newbies!

So, with that information in mind I briefly want to share with you some reflections that might be helpful for you as you begin in your ministry. And, if you’ve been around the traps for a while then I hope these pointers are a good refresher for you.

First, relationships are key, particularly with your Senior Pastor.

The number one relationship you have within your church, other than with Jesus, is your Senior Pastor.

No other relationship will have a bearing on your role and the way you function as a pastor than the relationship you have with your Senior Pastor. A strong relationship will provide a place of trust, honesty, and freedom in your role and will also allow for affirmation, encouragement and critique.

So, make sure you meet regularly with them. Either weekly or fortnightly. Anything longer and you won’t be building a good enough relationship. Seek to sit under their leadership and understand their vision and mission for the church and how you, in your role and ministry, support that.

This is also the relationship where the most tension will come. Bonem and Patterson, in their book Leading from the Second Chair, speak of it in terms of the subordinate-leadership paradox. Whereby we understand our authority and effectiveness comes from a healthy, subordinate relationship to the Senior Pastor. At different times there will be disagreement and it is the health and strength of the relationship that may determine how things go.

Other relationships are of course important – leadership teams, parents, young adults, young people, kids, schools, community groups etc. But, it is the Senior Pastor relationship that often needs to take priority.

Second, when you’re fresh, just listen and observe what’s going on.

Some pastoral ministry advice I have heard is that it is common to overestimate what you will achieve in your first year and underestimate what you will do in five. I think this is true.

I could come in with my predetermined programs and ideas and begin putting them in place without listening and observing what’s going on. In my 4-5 months I haven’t changed a thing. I’ve probably done some things a little differently but I haven’t made any structural or process changes to our youth and young adult ministries. I can see that in due course there will be a need to develop areas but right now it’s the listening and observation stage.

Each individual church is its own cultural microcosm and system. It can take many years for change to come about.

With this in mind I’d encourage you to simply listen to the stories of those who attend, ask them why they’re at the church, why do they stick around in this place? Speak to those in the youth group, the young adults and also the older ones in the congregation to get a sense of the history of the place. You may find that there are reasons why the church operates the way it does and it may seem completely logical in their mind and totally stupid in yours.

But just listen, listen and observe what’s going on and where God is at work.

Third, it’s important to have perspective.

We are broken people, working with broken people. And it is only by the grace of God that we do what we do.

It is such a privilege to disciple and equip people as they seek to know Jesus more and more. The amount of time, effort, and heartache that we put into our programs and our people can make us lose perspective at times.

There is great joy and great pain in ministry and it is only survived through a strong relationship with Jesus, who gives perspective to all things.

I am glad that my personhood and identity is not wrapped up in being a pastor. Being the Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Rowville Baptist Church is the current assignment God has for me, but my call is simply to follow Jesus and be more like Him. That allows me to have perspective in what I do.

It’s not easy. Not by any means.

But it is a truth that needs to be held onto.

Therefore, I want to encourage you to get a mentor or a ministry partner. Someone who you can trust, who knows what you are going through, and who can sit there and listen to you verbally vomit all over them. Someone who can understand the tough and challenging times but also someone who can lift the mirror up and tell you you’re being selfish and an idiot. Make sure you have someone like that, or a group of people like that, who can mutually support one-another, bring perspective to the various ministry situations you find yourself in, and pray with you and for you.

To finish I would like to remind you of 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 where Paul speaks of how God makes the church grow. “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

May we be reminded, whether we’re starting fresh or an old hat, that it is God making things grow as we serve Him and His church.

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