11 Things: Working Better

‘Adulting’ according to Urban Dictionary, is:

“…to do grown up things and hold responsibilities, such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage or rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown-ups.”

When entering youth ministry it is not uncommon to be in our early to mid-20s. In all reality, there is little of life lived and much more of life to come. Some things we aren’t taught in school and one of those things is adulting.

Part of adulting is having a system to deal with all the adulting things we need to do in life and work. Having a system to deal with these things can be learnt and is important in any job, relationship, or area of responsibility you might find yourself in.

With this in mind, I wish I had a better idea of organising my workflow and system when entering youth ministry. I have always considered myself someone who is pretty decent at organising and planning. For example, I have colour-coded calendars that tell me what’s coming up in church and family life. I have a spreadsheet that details every book I’ve read since 2005. I keep my books in categories. I keep notes of conversations I’ve had with people. I used to rename individual photos according to date and place. So, yeah, I think I’m OK at this organising thing…sometimes a bit too much.

But starting out life in my twenties I had no idea. It took me a number of years, through working as a Personal Trainer and Gym Manager, and into missions and ministry, before I felt I had a good system.

This system refers to how one handles their to-do-list and what you do with all the life administration you end up doing. This can include how to deal with email, reminding yourself of the improvements you need to make when running that camp again next year, setting a date to write a report, trying to remember the contact details of a new person at youth group. And so on.

There is a lot to deal with in youth ministry, and in life, so a system to deal with this is always helpful.

If I had my time over again I would begin thinking through this stuff earlier than I did. In many ways this is a learned process but there are plenty of resources to help young Youth Pastors think through the skills they need to improve as part of the job. In youth ministry there can be plenty of things going on in church life and it is hard to keep all the balls in the air at once. If starting out again, I’d think about how to structure my week, how to get my emails down to zero, how to plan the next 12 months and the next 3 years, how to understand the rhythm of the church’s year, how to deal with budgets, and how to plan one-off events.

All this non-people work makes our world turn on its axis.

What’s it called?

That’s right, administration.

The death of many a good Youth Pastor.

In every job there are things that people don’t really wish to do. Some can be delegated but others need to done. This is one of them.

So really, I’d simply encourage you to read two books.

First, Do More Better by Tim Challies, outlines briefly how to approach a working system that is adaptable to your needs and scaleable to your work and life context.

Second, What’s Best Next by Matt Perman is also an excellent resource on how to think about personal productivity and then how to apply it.

Administration, it’s not the sexiest topic. But it’s important if you’re wanting to learn more about how to actually do the job of youth ministry in amongst all the caring and events.

It’s something I wish I knew when I started out.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part ten of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six, part seven, part eight and part nine here.

The Relevance Of Jim Elliot For Youth Ministry

Let me tell you about Jim.

Jim was an active young man who enjoyed sharing his faith with others. He was a social kind of guy. He liked people and people liked him.

He grew up in the United States and was an excellent student in high school and university. During these years he became a Christian, and from that point sought to share his faith with everyone he knew. In university he led a bible study and was the editor of the college newspaper. He studied hard, and received good grades.

At one point he became interested in a girl. This interest occurred as he was exploring options to serve God in a mission capacity overseas.

jim_elliot_by_gregchapin-d6jqcxv

He married Elisabeth and they moved to Ecuador as missionaries. They first learnt the language before moving out near the jungle. Jim had a passion to reach a group of people who had never heard the name Jesus before. He wanted to share Jesus with them and had a few friends wanting to do the same.

After a couple of years Jim and four other friends began to search for a tribe that had never heard about Jesus. They did a number of flyovers of the jungle looking for a particular tribe, their huts and living arrangements. After a number of months they found the tribe they’d been looking for. They began to gently make contact with them through giving them gifts; gifts of food and other packages useful to their tribe were lowered out of the plane they were in.

On one particular day they decided to make closer contact with the tribe by flying to an open area near the village, landing on some hard sand next to a river. The whole day the team chatted with a couple of people from the tribe the best way they knew how. They were encouraged, believing they had made a good impression.

Unbeknownst to the group the rest of the tribe had surrounded them as they had been talking throughout the day. In the thick of the trees and scrubs of the jungle were the men of the village. After dark these tribesmen came out of hiding and killed them, putting an end to their mission task.

Once the guys didn’t arrive home the wives and children soon realised what had happened. In the weeks and months following many, understandably, left Ecuador for home.

But this isn’t the end of the story.

Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, and their daughter, ended up making contact with the tribe. Elisabeth and her daughter became friends with this tribe and ended up living with them for a number of years.

They lived with the people who had killed their husband and father.

Over the course of time the tribe turned to Jesus and from its violent ways into a loving people who cherished the Good News.

The story of Jim Elliot and his wife Elisabeth is a famous story in mission circles. It is a story that has inspired many people to take the leap into cross-cultural mission, and I’d have to be included with them.

However, this isn’t simply a story worth limiting to global missions. It can also be a story relevant to us in youth ministry. Here’s how:

First, Jim’s story reminds us of the concern for sharing the Good News. 

This Good News is the story of what God has done through Jesus. It is the story of God creating and calling a people to himself. It is a story that understands each individual student, parent, family, church member, and member of society, as a loved, cared for, and important person to God himself.

In youth ministry we seek to connect God’s story with the stories of those who we come into contact with. We seek to connect the Good News with the story of each individual connected with our youth ministry. Jim’s story is a reminder that sharing God’s story is to be at the forefront of what we do. It is what we are to be passionate about and committed to. It is a reminder that our youth ministries are to be mission-shaped.

Second, Jim’s story reminds us to be strategic. 

There is strategy behind the plans Jim and his friends had to achieve their mission. This strategy was thought out as they tried to show their love and care for the tribe in a respectful and meaningful way.

In youth ministry it’s important to have a strategy in determining how you go about what you do. Sometimes this might be in your head, but eventually it is worth having something written out in order to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. A youth ministry without a strategy is like going on a car ride without a map. It helps keep you focussed and helps you know when you’re heading off track.

Third, Jim’s story reminds us of the need for passion and commitment.

No one will deny Jim had passion and commitment. Jim realised the need to be involved in the long-term mission task. He had a passion to share the Good News and to make it known to people who wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also committed himself to this task, commitment even to death.

If you’re in youth ministry and don’t have the passion for it, nor the commitment to it, then why do you even #youthmin?

Passion doesn’t need to be loud and proud, it might be through an inner sense of satisfaction. Commitment will be shown through your presence, your people interactions, and your punctuality to name a few character traits. Encourage those traits and stoke that passion…or find someone to take over.

What inspires me about Jim’s story is his willingness to share the gospel with people and to also share his life with them. He not only gave his live for the cause of Christ but was seeking to share his life with people he didn’t know. He was one of five young men to be martyred that day in 1956, all striving to share their faith with this unreached tribe who had never heard the Good News before. Yet, it took their death for the sharing of the Good News to this tribe to occur.

I doubt you’re putting yourself on the line like Jim Elliot and this mates did when rocking up to youth group on a Friday night. That’s OK. But, whatever your youth ministry looks like remember that it is like double-sided sticky-tape, its about sharing the Good News and about sharing your life.

“…because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8. 

11 Things: Fixing People vs God’s Grace

I walk into church.

I know what to expect. I’ve been to plenty of churches and services before.

I’ve been a Pastor’s kid. I’ve been a volunteer. I’ve spoken up the front. I’ve been on staff. I’ve been part of committees and organising groups.

I know church culture like I know how to drive a car. I know what the people are doing up the front.

I know most of the songs. I know the typical Baptist liturgy, the three-song sandwich.

I’ve sat through plenty of prayers. I’ve let the bowl pass plenty of times. I’ve taken the bread and the juice regularly. I’ve listened to plenty of people’s stories. I’ve heard sermon after sermon after sermon.

I know what to expect on a Sunday morning.

But what I didn’t expect was that feeling of being more burdened when I walked out of the service than when I walked in.

That surprised me.

For a few months, having recently finished up my position as Youth and Young Adults Pastor, I found myself confused.

I thought going to church would now be easier. There’d be no pressure, there’d be no one watching, there’d be no one expecting anything of me. I could sit, I could listen, I could let it all wash over me as I reflected and worshipped God.

But, there I sat. I sat hearing those prayers, listening to the songs, concentrating on the sermon, and participating in the gathering. Yet, the more I did this the worse I felt, the more the burdens piled up on my already heavy shoulders.

As I’ve reflected on this experience there are no doubt plenty of reasons for feeling like this. The loss of previous identity, the over-cynical nature of my mind, the attitude of my heart toward church. I also realised that what I was looking for was grace, hope, and a sense of God’s love for me personally.

Instead, I was given proof-texted lifehacks for a healthy life. I was being fed fast-food that seemed to taste nice at the time but became ugly as time went on.

For a season, I sensed layers and layers of guilt being added to me when walking out of a church service. I was guilty about my relationship with Jesus. I was guilty about my actions and attitudes toward those around me. I was guilty about my parenting. I was guilty about my spending habits. I was guilty about my responsibilities.

I came out feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. That all I needed to do to be living the Christian life was to do more of whatever was taught that particular week. Rather than finding the alleviation of guilt, shame, and sin that the worship of God through the Spirit brings I was finding my already full to-do-list was being added to.

As I look back on my own brief ministry and church experience I realise that little time is spent providing opportunities of being fed God’s grace.

The church service is often a place where people come once a week, if you’re lucky, and seek to hear God through his Word with his people. Yet, I know I have been guilty of things, of just giving fast-food topped with ice-cream for dessert. Often we give a short-term fix to long-term problems. We give little balm for their hurts and pain, providing cheap Band-Aids that soon lose their stick.

In youth ministry we often plough ahead with the program. We outline what’s coming up and hit the main topics of relationships, sex, social media, and other ‘youth culture’ issues. We often bring the fun, the excitement and the loud. But it is also about time we as Youth Pastors thought about bringing the grace.

How do we provide spaces for young people, and those in our church, to understand that God is a God of grace?

We’re all very good at giving advice and providing correction if something doesn’t go the way we think is right.

We’re all very quick to help with the practical but often unwilling to sit with the pained.

The disruptive kid at youth group. The youth leader who always brings the negative. The parent who is always on your back. Each needs grace.

People are not only sinners but they are sufferers too. They are enduring life and busyness and all that comes with the daily tasks of living. It’s a wonder so many make it into church on a Sunday, or to youth group on a Friday as it is!

Let’s not attempt to fix people. Let’s provide spaces where God can work his grace.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part nine of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six, part seven and part eight here.

11 Things: Church Culture And Politics

Depending on what kind of day I’m having I might be able to brush off the niggle that is church politics or I might get really cynical and let my frustration out to those around me.

Unfortunately, like any workplace, organisation, or business (for profit or not), churches have politics. As a Youth Pastor it is important to be aware of this reality and be able to deal with it in a healthy manner.

When you start as a Youth Pastor you walk in pretty blind to what the higher echelons of church management deal with. Whether it be a pastoral team, the leadership team (elders and deacons), or even a ministry area (youth, families, childrens, mens, womens etc.) it takes time to grow in understanding of the culture of the church and its leadership.

Before we unpack the main areas of church politics a Youth Pastor needs to deal with there are three important caveats worth mentioning:

(1) There are many good and well-meaning people who do not seek to be involved in church politics but because of the church’s culture they can’t help it. With leadership and responsibility comes with it certain parameters and a certain culture. Even a new person to a leadership role can be swept along without realising they’re in the middle of some sort of politicking. I don’t believe most church members seek to be part of a team that is dysfunctional or unhealthy in this way.

(2) Talking about the topic of church politics brings with it a negative tinge. Not all politics in a church is bad, sometimes it is necessary. But even using the term ‘politics’ in the church setting conjures up ugly and dysfunctional images.

(3) I, like everyone else, bring my own set of assumptions and experience to church and its leadership. I recognise that growing up as a Pastor’s Kid, where church was all-consuming, has impacted me more than I probably realise. Seeing, hearing, and knowing what churches are like at every level and observing how they operate from a young age provides a unique insight, for better or worse.

With that said, it is worth outlining a few points about what to be aware of when settling into the Youth Pastor role, particularly as a ‘newbie’ or in a new church.

First, you are being watched by everyone.

The Youth Pastor role is an unbelievably important and strategic role in the church. I believe this to be the case. But it is also a role where you are being watched – your character, your interactions with people, your words, and your actions. Everything. Even before you step into the congregation for your first Sunday people already know of you and have certain expectations about what you will bring to the church. They will watch you from day one and will continue to do so throughout your tenure.

Second, people will talk about you.

Just realise that people will talk about you without you there. They will talk about your personality, about the actions in leadership you take, about what you wear on a Sunday, about how you relate to the ‘young people’, about how you make conversation with them, and what your family is like (if you have one). Hopefully, when they do speak of you they will speak kindly and positively, but don’t be surprised if there are some negative critiques too.

Third, many people believe they can do your job.

While you have been brought in for the Youth Pastor role there will be plenty of people who believe they can do your job. So, you will find people coming up and suggesting the best way forward in various ministries you’re responsible for. This could be anyone from the 15-year-old in the youth group, the new leader on the team, the parent who isn’t happy with what’s going on, or even the Senior Pastor who was a Youth Pastor 20 years ago and doesn’t believe things have changed that much. This is not to say that input from others is not valid, it most certainly is! But, that feedback and word of input needs to be sifted and thrown back and forth with other leaders in the ministry area. This is why it’s important to have a team of leaders.

Furthermore, this is why it is also important to work out what you believe is the best strategy for reaching young people, what you’re focussing on, and what that looks like in the week-to-week. Discerning this occurs through your relationship with Jesus, prayer, reading about youth ministry, experience, conversations with other pastors, and with the volunteer leadership team.

Fourth, you will not please everyone.

The quicker you come to terms with this realisation the better for your own emotional health. While those first 12-18 months will generally be quite ‘honeymoonish’ there will come a time where you will begin to hear what people are really thinking. This is where the fun begins. This is where people believe they know you, you’ve been around long enough to build some trust (hopefully), you may have implemented a few little changes here and there, and now feedback on what is actually happening begins to rear its head. In this stage you will find people have strong ideas (refer to my third point) but will also want to see the success of what you’re wanting to achieve too. At this point change may be easier but negative feedback will also come. Being clear on where the youth ministry is headed will make this easier.

Fifth, your ministry is not solely about teenagers.

You’d think that the term ‘Youth Pastor’ would sum up what you do, working with teenagers. This isn’t the case. In reality you are the pastor to the youth but also have working relationships with many of parts of the body. While the youth ministry and the young people is one aspect to your role other important relationships include the Senior Pastor and other colleagues, parents, the church leadership team, other ministry leaders, young adults and other volunteer leaders, just to name a few. With the role comes the actual task of delivering a youth ministry but this all occurs within the context of the wider church. For example, this means when seeking to set dates for the youth ministry you need to take into mind the rhythm of the church and important dates for other ministries of the church. An example that comes to mind for me is setting a Youth Leaders Retreat at the end of the year. I could just put a date down and run with it but I am conscious of where the church meetings are, what the lead up to Christmas means for various church activities, when people are on the music team for Sunday mornings, and the like. The ministry you’re responsible for works within the context of the rest of the church.

Church culture and church politics are something to be aware of when you’re a Youth Pastor. I wish I had known more about his when I first stepped into a paid gig. It can be hard stepping into a church leadership position believing you must get on with everyone, being their best friend. At the end of the day you can’t be, but you can be a leader who takes the responsibility of their position seriously and show others how to ‘do’ youth ministry in a healthy manner.

It is important to do the work God has called you to as you lead the youth ministry. Keep your head down, fight the battle worth fighting for, and pray about the church constantly. Don’t go about injecting yourself into things that you don’t have any influence over but help those around you lead well. Make sure you keep your heart and conscience clear, don’t let any relationship breakdown or uncomfortable church politics fester so you become bitter. And fix your eyes on Jesus, be generous in grace, and hold firm to the Gospel for yourself and those around you.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part eight of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six and part seven here.

11 Things: Temptation And Holiness

As I’ve mentioned previously, the church is made up of broken and sinful people (Romans 3:23). This includes the leadership of any church, its elders and pastors. This includes the Youth Pastor too. It is simply a reality.

Before starting out in ministry I looked up to my Youth Pastors as people who had it all together. They had a better relationship with God than anyone I knew. For some reason I thought they were further up the spiritual ladder than I could ever imagine attaining. And they were always surrounded by or doing godly type activities – preaching, speaking, leading bible studies, organising events etc. At the end of the day they were in Christian leadership and were ‘better Christians’ than I and most of the congregation.

So I thought.

Entering into youth ministry with this thought will not help. That is why I wished I knew that the sin and brokenness which we have prior to ministry will be amplified when in it.

Those things we fear, those habits we slip into, those behaviours we act out, those temptations to click, those thought processes we go through, will all continue with more intensity as Youth Pastor. The nature of the position means the Evil One will seek you, or those close to you, out more often.

Just as the temptation to sin doesn’t stop when we become a Christian, the temptation to sin doesn’t stop when entering ministry either. It only increases.

This is not then used to justify sinful behaviour or thought, it is the reality of being in the role. Sinfulness continues because we are not yet perfect beings. However, realising that there is an increase of temptation as Youth Pastor it is probably wise to have a few things in place.

Regular Life With Jesus 

This is a no brainer. Every Christian should be having regular time with Jesus. But this does require intentionality. It is easy to slip into believing that all those sermons, bible studies and pastoral meetups with prayer constitutes daily devotional time with Jesus. We know that’s not the case though. Put time in your calendar, alarms on your phone, and work to find a regular rhythm to meet with Jesus throughout the day, week, month and year.

A Ministry Partner

I’m sure I’d have gone off the rails more that I usually do had I not been meeting with those who ask the hard questions. Regular catch ups with people willing to ask about my private life sounds daunting but it is just so important in helping me continue in faith and ministry. One or two guys regularly hear acknowledgement of my own fallenness and brokenness. These are people I trust, away from my own church context, who know what I’m going through. Make sure you get one if you haven’t.

Know Thyself

When you are prone to falling into temptation? What is it that makes you do this? Is it tiredness? It is boredom? It is escapism? Is it procrastination? It is something else? Look at your calendar, see what energises you and what doesn’t. Think about what happens in your head and in our body as you work through the rhythms of your ministry week, month, year, etc. Are you always gorging KFC on the way home from youth group at midnight on a Friday night? Are you thinking poorly of people you are working with? Are you wasting time on things that take you away from the important things? Know thyself.

As much as this post is about realising the temptations that come thick and fast while a Youth Pastor it is also about holiness. Holiness is a much maligned topic. We seek to follow Jesus as much as we can and be missional in our lives. Yet, for some reason we really dislike the thought of having to be holy, seeking to be obedient, and grow in godly maturity and character. Of course it will be painful, cutting off branches that don’t produce fruit in order to have small shoots of growth is going to be so. But in among this realisation of increased temptation comes the need to pursue holiness (Hebrew 12:14; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2 Peter).

And yeah, I still look up to my old Youth Pastors no matter their own sense of flaw and brokenness.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part seven of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five and part six here.

11 Things: Nothing Else Matters

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part six of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart four, and part five here.


When in the guts of week-to-week youth ministry it is unlikely that anyone cares about what you’ve achieved in the past. The only time your education, prior experience, and variety of training helps you is through the application and interview process. Once your name has gone to the church, an introductory A4 sheet of paper is handed out about who you are (and your family, if you have one), and the vote has been taken, it’s all over. All of that is forgotten.

What matters most to those in your church is how you relate to people and whether you can look after the students.

Seriously, get those two things right and generally people will be happy.

However, for us as Youth Pastors, we have a sense of pride in our work. This is not the kind of arrogant pride, overconfidence, and belittling of others. No, this is a sense of achievement, being happy and satisfied in the work, education, and relationships we have in our life.

If you’ve been in youth ministry longer than 5 years you should feel good about that. If you’ve completed a particular course, you should feel good about that. If you’ve travelled, you should feel good about that. If you’ve been through tough experiences and come out the other side, you should feel good about that. If you’ve taken the step to get married, I hope you’d feel good about that! Whatever your accomplishments and achievements are you should feel good about them. We are all unique and will bring those experiences into our youth ministry role at church.

The issue is, no one will care more about this than you.

I wished I knew that what I’d achieved in the past would only matter to me earlier than I did. At one stage I believed that the two-years in mission work would help me gain a position as Youth Pastor. I thought it would at least provide a good platform for leadership in the church. After all, I knew what I’d done, the experiences I’d had, and was confident in my own abilities. Yet, when in conversation with someone in leadership they simply dismissed this experience because it wasn’t youth ministry specific. Little did they know me, let alone the experiences I had, and how totally applicable and formative it was to youth ministry.

Often we begin to believe that the experiences we’ve had in the past aren’t very influential or relevant to the role we play as Youth Pastors. This isn’t true.

Everything we’ve done is really formative for us. Our experience in life and work all helps in the youth ministry role, helping us relate, care, and create as Youth Pastors. Whether it’s a course of study, travel, corporate work, gardening, or cleaning toilets as part of your entry-level McDonalds job, all of these help in forming us in youth ministry.

All this being said, it comes down to the realisation that we can’t rest on these experiences. We can’t have our hope and identity in our past accomplishments, just as we can’t have our hope and identity in our role as Youth Pastor.

While these things help form us, they aren’t known to others. Youth ministry volunteers, parents, the students don’t know your story like you do. When something comes up that they’re not happy with, that they challenge you on, that they disagree with you about, then none of your accomplishments matter. It’s not about status and achievements. What matters is how you’re going to deal with the situation you have in front of you. What matters is whether you’ve learnt from your experiences, and how you can leverage them in dealing with the challenges and joys you face in youth ministry now.

The point is really about identity.

Our identity is not in our position as Youth Pastor. It’s not in our accomplishments. It’s not about our ego.

It’s in Christ (John 15:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; Col 3:3).

We serve him. His people. And try to get the ego out of the way.


Questions for reflection:

  • Do you put too much weight in the achievements of the past?
  • Is your ego seeking to remind you of all the awesome things you’ve done?
  • How are you learning and growing to serve others in humility?

Podcast: After 9 – Episode 82

I was interviewed about my journey in youth ministry on the After 9 podcast. It was really fun to do and I think it ended up alright. It went live today.

“In this episode of After 9 Zac interviews Aussie blogger and youth pastor Jon Coombs. Hear the ministerial honesty from half a world away as…[Jon]…shares his heart about what it means to serve in youth ministry long term and what the simple gospel has to say about the power of God working in the lives of young people. If you were called to ministry young or have continued to serve for more than a decade, or have a dad as a pastor, this one is for you.”

You can find it here.