The Inadequate Youth Pastor

As I stand in the front row of our church, waiting for the song to finish before I get up to preach, my heart is beating faster than usual. My mind is sending up invisible prayers like a professional boxer hitting the speedball. While on the outside I might look calm, inside is nothing of the sort. Nerves are one thing, but it’s actually the intense feelings of inadequacy that come before the preaching begins. Afterward, those feelings return as I stand praying during the final song, simply wanting to hide. Sometimes I acknowledge the feelings and embrace them, other times I am overwhelmed by them.

These feelings of inadequacy are not restricted to the task of preaching. It applies to other areas of church life, including youth ministry and working with young adults. Whether it is meeting with someone one-on-one, leading leaders in planning our youth ministry and its culture, seeking to give wise advice to questions our high schoolers ask, or leading the week Bible study, I often walk away with a strong feeling that I’m inadequate for the role.

The Inadequate YP

Some smart person will tell me that I’m placing more emphasis on myself than on God at this point. That I’m not putting faith in God’s work through his Word, but rather seeking affirmation and positive feeling from my own performance. And while I imagine I am doing this to some extent, who doesn’t want to at least feel like they’re doing somewhat of a decent job at something they are called to? But considering the preparation, the prayer, and the ‘performance’ itself, the intensity of these inadequate feelings just doesn’t match.

It is often said that we put more pressure on ourselves than we do others. And we expect we will be able to do good, high quality work, from the outset. No matter what role we have–youth leader, parent, student, worker–we all have feelings of inadequacy. But no matter how much positive feedback I might receive this week, no matter how much experience I recognise I have, no matter how much study or reading I do, and no matter how much encouragement I see within the ministry itself, I often feel inadequate in what I do.

I suspect I’m not the only one in youth ministry feeling this way.

At this point it would be worth heading toward a positive, uplifting, and assuring verse of Scripture to tell me, and all of us, that we’re not inadequate at all. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m reminded of Moses in Exodus 3-4 as he lays out to God objection after objection on why he should not be the leader of God’s people, confront Pharaoh, and help them leave the bonds of slavery in Egypt. I can completely understand Moses when he says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13).

Evidently my pride and ego get in the way. There is no doubt. And now that I’m in my late-30’s, rather than my early-20’s, a little of the brashness and arrogance has been shaved away. But, those feelings of inadequacy still linger; like the old ladies perfume I was skunked by when receiving an awkward hug at morning tea after church.

Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with these feelings of inadequacy. I can’t say I’ve found helpful answers from others in ministry yet. It seems everyone is battling with the same problem! But then again perhaps all one needs is a good rest and some down time.

Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Set Free

Over at Rooted Ministry the second article of a 5-part series I’m having published this week has gone live.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. Today’s post focuses on the freedom we have because of the cross. You can read it here.

“As we minister to teenagers, as we parent our children, we often find ourselves drawn back to living pre-Calvary. We are more comfortable operating out of a place of rules, law, and instruction. And while we teach our students and children this freedom message, we often place upon them the same law we find ourselves so drawn to.

Living gospel lives means we speak this teaching and instruction from a new foundation, a foundation of grace and freedom that seeks to highlight this gift God has given through his Son. With gospel living comes rest; performance to achieve for God is turned into being with God. With gospel living comes security; we are held fast by a loving Father, free in the assurance of his promises. With gospel living comes comfort; in times of pain and trial we lean into his sovereign hand in all things, knowing that God is truly in control. With the freedom that comes from the gospel we are able to live lives from a place of joy, gratitude, and thankfulness.”

For today’s full article, go here.

You can read other published pieces here.

Screen Shot 2019-08-20 at 9.29.58 pm

Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Are Made Right

Over at Rooted Ministry I have a 5-part series coming out this week, all focussed on the theme of identity for the youth pastor and centred on the phrase ‘but now’. The first of these five have been published today.

“Our identity, as well as our worship and obedience, is found at the cross. Nothing else matters, nothing else suffices. Yet in the chaos of our jobs and calling, how often do we forget this? Like clouds above, slow and silent, we find ourselves drifting from this truth among the busyness, the self-importance, and the variety of youth ministry. We lose ourselves in the thrust and hustle. We seek to serve God and those in our congregations, yet we find ourselves wondering who we are amongst it all.

‘But now’ reveals our true identity to us in a way that feels like we’ve just walked into a glass door. Once we were a people who performed in order to be worthy, now we are a people who achieve through the free grace we receive. These two words set us back on the path to rest and rightness.”

The full post can be found here.

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 9.15.40 pm

Published: 5 Advantages of Gospel Centred Youth Ministry

It’s very pleasing to have had another post about youth ministry published on The Gospel Coalition.

This time I’m written about what I see as the advantages to a gospel-centred approach in youth ministry. It seems odd this even needs to be said. And using the phrase ‘gospel-centred’ when everyone else uses it beings to lose its meaning. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder to write these five points, and I would like to believe it all holds true.

Hope you enjoy it.

You can find it here.

“I can’t help but reflect on the hundreds of teenagers I’ve been privileged to teach and shepherd through the years. Some have stuck with faith and the church. Others dropped off, never to be seen of again.

Without the gospel and an understanding of God’s guiding sovereign hand in this work, I wouldn’t have survived this long. Thankfully, the growing is God’s and the sustaining is God’s—and yet we have the privilege of being a small part of this work through a gospel-centered youth ministry.”

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.33.02 pm

You can view the whole thing here.

You can read other published articles here.

Published: You’re Not Wasting Your Degree In Youth Ministry

A little while back Tim Gough of YouthWorkHacks.com wrote a couple of posts encouraging greater training for those in youth ministry. The first, ‘Why Train For Ministry?‘, gives a number of bullet point-like sentences on how training can help in the formation and learning of a youth pastor. The second, ‘How To Pick A Youth Ministry Training Course?‘, gives a brief framework on what to think about when considering a course for further youth ministry study.

I enjoyed reading both pieces, which made me reflect on how my Master of Divinity studies have helped me in the youth and young adult ministry I’ve found myself. I was inspired so much that I ended up writing a guest post which Tim posted recently.

You can read it here.

“I have found, possibly because of my education, that I am not viewed solely as the Youth Pastor but as one of the pastoral team. This could be unique to my church of course, but I suspect that because of the wider training I have, I can be a voice and make respected theological contributions to conversations the church is having. There is a sureness in my thinking and preaching because I am able to wrestle and converse with various aspects of Scripture. I’m not just seen as the guy who can run a good game of dodgeball and deliver a sex talk when needed.”

You can access other guest posts I’ve had published here.

Screen Shot 2019-06-28 at 8.47.25 pm

Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

On the outside basketball court, just down the road from where we live, we spent time as a family helping our eldest daughter with her bike riding. For a few hours we were focussed on helping her with her coordination, pedalling, steering, and balance as she learnt to ride a bike without training wheels.

Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

It quickly became clear that this was the right time to do such an activity; she soon became a duck to water and was riding around too fast and confidently for her parents liking. At times she was overconfident, which resulted in a couple of crashes. But generally, she moved from training wheels to the two-wheeler without much trouble. It’s now time to keep the practice going so she continues to grow in confidence and skill.

If you’re involved in youth ministry I wonder whether it’s time for you to take the training wheels off?

What’s that mean, you ask?

Perhaps the following points might help that.

People Over Program

Starting out in youth ministry finds all leaders more concerned about the program than the people coming to said program. Every rookie leader I have seen is more worried and anxious about pulling together a good program than they are in building relationships with those in attendance.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning the ropes about how to put together and run some games, write and deliver a talk, lead a discussion group, understand the flow of the night, and be involved in set up and pack up are all important parts of youth ministry. It is natural, and far easier, to learn the skills that are associated with those kind of tasks than it is to learn the art of conversation and care. It’s far easier to deal with these task-orientated responsibilities than being intentional about relationship building.

A leader who takes their training wheels off will be one who begins to focus more on people over the program. They understand the relational connections with those who come along far outweigh whatever activities are happening on a particular night. Soon enough the programmatic nature of the ministry takes care of itself and conversations with leaders, parents, and students become the priority.

Character Over Competence

This, in reality, is a must at any stage.

From a personal point of view, this is the idea of working on one’s character over working on one’s competency. Competency can include all the planning and organisation ability, relational nature, program tasks, idea generation, and even leadership skills. Yet, if the character of the person is not something you want modelled by others then it is probably best to reassess the situation.

Someone who is taking the training wheels off in this regard will be intentional about their growth in character. In Galatians 5 we read a list of character traits, known as the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, which are more worthy to be working on than any particular skill and ability. These include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Other character-forming virtues include, truthfulness, humility, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the like. It is these things that we seek to work on, be intentional about, and realise they all take a long time to grow within us.

At the end of the day, character trumps everything.

Initiative Over Instruction

So you’ve been involved in your church’s youth ministry for a while. You build relationships. You can run a good game. You can do a talk. What’s the next step?

Taking initiative.

And this isn’t just doing those things above without thinking, or seeing the need to do more of these things and going for it. While that’s great, and it is an example of taking initiative, there are other areas to begin to explore.

Taking initiative might look like:

  • beginning to think about how you can catch up with the one or two students after school.
  • sending a text or two during the week to encourage someone from the group.
  • asking a parent how you can pray for them and the family this coming week.
  • sharing a bible verse or thought to someone who God puts on your heart.
  • vacuuming the floor after the youth night is over without being asked.
  • getting to the event early and making sure you’re setting up and prepared.
  • writing an encouraging card to someone who you think needs it this week.
  • engaging with the strategy, vision, and big picture of how the youth ministry services others and the wider church.

Initiative is doing those things that you know are worthwhile and important without being asked. And while initiative includes doing all the tasks required to pull off a great youth event, it is again centred on people. It is beginning to think and act in a way that actually ministers to people, not just performing a task.

I wonder how you operate? Do you still have your training wheels on?

Is it time to take them off?

Published: Fighting for the Joy of Our Students

For many of us there is the daily fight for joy, to find something to be joyful about in our day-to-day and week-by-week existence. As youth ministry leaders we also have the opportunity to fight for joy for those in our church and youth group. In fact, given the pressures on teenagers, and the ever-increasing stress and anxiety rising within the generations, we can play a part in fighting for their joy too.

With this in mind, I have written a piece that’s been published on Rooted Ministry. You can read the whole thing here.

“How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.”

Other pieces published elsewhere can be found here.

Screen Shot fight for joy for students

Blogging In Youth Ministry

The other week I came across a youth ministry site highlighting their top five youth ministry blogs. As I read through the list I noticed 80% of those mentioned were actually youth ministry sites who provide a blog with a range of contributors. This is slightly different to a personal blog, whereby the individual youth pastor might write their own content on their own site. Unfortunately, I can’t link you to the list because it seems the post was taken down.

Nevertheless, with four of the five blogs coming from large youth ministry sites I was reminded of this article by Tim Challies earlier in the year. While writing about the current state of Christian blogging he highlighted the demise of personal blogs in favour of edited articles through large ministry organisation websites. It seems the same goes for youth ministry as it does for the wider church.

Blogging In Youth Ministry

Over the past few years I’ve noticed more and more personal youth ministry blogs drop in content. Instead, authors become part of a larger ministry platform and provide content for them at the expense of their own blog. Evidently, the youth ministry blogging sector isn’t as large as the general church. However, it is telling that there are few who continue to regularly produce blog posts in youth ministry through their own blog.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I enjoy writing for the larger ministry sites too. I have had some writing goals in recent years which have included being published on these ministry sites (You can even read what I’ve had published on those sites here). At the same time, I’ve been conscious to continue to write regularly for my own audience; seeking to work at the craft of writing and reflect on ministry to youth and young adults. There is something about putting my own thoughts down in my own space. As I curate my own content I improve my writing and communication, and gain clarity on my own thoughts and thinking.

There are some great organisations creating some terrific content in written, verbal, and visual form for those of us in youth ministry. The production of high quality curriculum, podcasts, articles, and other resources is worth using and adapting. These are worth contributing to as well. However, there is currently a significant lack of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners giving their own thoughts and reflections in their own space. As I look through my youth ministry blog feed I see 25 different blogs on the list, five of them are personal blogs actively writing about youth ministry. That’s not many; and it has decreased in the last few years.

As I’ve thought more about this recently it is worth naming some other observations I believe have made an impact in this area. At the end of the day I’d love to see more youth pastors and practitioners writing about their reflections on youth ministry. This would help all of us as we seek to be better in our roles, and encourage us to keep going. But for what it’s worth, here are a few more thoughts about why there may be a distinct lack of bloggers in the youth ministry space.

First, it is a niche area of ministry.

Youth and young adult ministry is niche. There aren’t too many who stay in a role long-term in this area of ministry. If they do they may not feel like they need to share their expertise through a blog.

Second, youth ministry brings with it young pastors with little experience to share.

I don’t think this is a reason not to blog. But, I realise that many youth pastors are young themselves and young in terms of experience. This raises the question of what they should share in a blog. However, I often feel the same, even with nearly 20 years experience. There are observations and reflections I find helpful from people of all ages and experiences. Some may be things I’ve heard before, but they are given a new perspective or voice. There are other things I may simply need reminding of. Whatever the case, if you’ve got a writing bone in your body and in youth ministry then come and join the small band of bloggers doing the same.

Third, there is a higher rate of consumption through visual media than through written media.

As the years have gone by so has the increase in the use of YouTube and Insta as some of the main ways content is delivered. The written word, and spending time to think and clarify thought through the written word, has been overtaken by other means of distribution. In the age group of our ministry, and even in the age group of fresh youth pastors, videos and podcasts are more and more important. I do wonder whether this has had an impact on youth ministry bloggers.

Fourth, in the age of platform people seek platform.

There is the very real temptation to always search out a larger audience. We are in the age of likes, comments, and shares. Those who seek to produce content hope their work will be distributed far and wide. But it seems the search for platform has become normal. So, if we want our message to be read by the most amount of people possible then it makes sense to write for large ministry sites rather than a personal blog viewed a few times per week. It would be of no surprise if the decrease in personal blogging, in youth ministry or throughout the church, is because there is a sinful search for platform.

I want to encourage those involved in youth ministry to start writing. It may not be a particular desire you have right now but I’d ask to you pick up a pen (or keyboard) and write your reflections about youth ministry as you work in it.

I started my blogging adventure four years into paid ministry. That was 2009. It’s coming up 10 years since I posted my first blog. Since then I’ve written some terrible stuff. But in recent time I’ve been encouraged to continue to write, and hopefully become more thoughtful, articulate, and clear on my reflections in youth ministry.

You can do that too. 

Writing, not only the published pieces on a blog but also those words in a journal and notebook, have all contributed to thoughtful engagement in youth ministry. Some believe youth ministry is a pretty thoughtless exercise – dodgeball and abstinence training as some have said – but they don’t know what they’re talking about. As you continue to do the work, pray, stay, and love others I’m sure you will find plenty to reflect on, much of it worth sharing with the rest of us. I’d encourage you to do just that.

Published: Fyre Festival and Our Perpetual Facade of Perfection

Having watched the documentary film about Fyre Festival a couple of weeks back on Netflix I spent some time working on a cultural reflection piece. I don’t often do that, in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever done it. Anyway, it seems to have turned out OK, and has been published on the Rooted Ministry blog.

“This power and influence of social media upon our world is highlighted in the recent Netflix documentary film, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. It’s a fascinating story. A story of deception and criminal activity on one hand, but also one that reflects more about humanity than we’d like to think.”

You can read the piece here.

You can read other posts published elsewhere through my ‘writing’ page.