Beginning As A Youth Pastor: 11 Things I Wished I Knew

I was asked to speak at a gathering with other Youth and Young Adult Pastors a few months ago. This was in a session on ‘Winning In The First 3 Years of Ministry’. I shared 10 points from the perspective of what I wish I had known going in to youth and young adult ministry. Here are those 10 points, plus an extra.

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1. I wish I knew that an active and exciting relationship with Jesus would be so hard to foster.
It’s easy to look at the Youth Pastor when we’re in youth group, or volunteering as a leader, and think they’re really spiritual and full-on for Jesus. If they are then that’s great, but in my experience it is really hard to find a rhythm in order to foster an active and growing relationship with Jesus. Sure, I’ve grown and have made Jesus the centre of my being since I was in high school, but being surrounded by teaching materials, going through Bible College, leading Bible studies, and preaching regularly, aren’t a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines. Make sure you carve out time for Scripture, prayer, reading, music, reflection and solitude.

2. I wish I knew that my relationship with my Senior Pastor was the most important in the church.
I feel like I’ve had great relationships with my Senior Pastors but I’m surprised at how crucial they’ve been for the week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year ministry. They are the closest relationship I have in the church because of my proximity to them and the regularity in which I see them. It is the relationship that keeps me energised and willing to stick around for the long haul. When Youth Pastors leave it is most likely because their relationship with the Senior Pastor has broken down. I’ve seen it, over and over again. I don’t want it to be me.

3. I wish I knew that the health of the youth ministry is only as healthy as the church.
Youth and young adult ministry is not happening within a vacuum, it is set in the context of the wider church. When you are sick the whole body is sick, not simply one particular part. So it is with youth and young adult ministry. In my first year as a paid Youth Pastor there was significant disharmony in my church that saw a number of significant and influential people leave. This had a trickle down effect. The evening service went from averaging 60-70 people each week to 20-30. The loss of young adults, the loss of youth leaders, the loss of high school students. It just went bang. This highlights the importance of making sure we are aware of what is going on in the wider church. Getting to know people across all ages and stages is important. An understanding of the history of the church is also critical when thinking through the church’s health.

4. I wish I knew that there would be friends for the road and friends for the journey.
Some friends stick around. They stick with you through thick and thin, when you move church, and are generally lifelong friends. These are friends for the road of life. Other people will simply be friends for the journey. They’ll be with you for the time you’re at their church or in their life. But, when you move they won’t continue to catch up with you or check in with you. It’s taken time for me to realise this, more so in the last 12 months. Friends and colleagues that I thought would continue to have an interest in my life, as I do theirs, don’t. It’s important to gather around you 3-4 friends who’ll be with you for the road, ministry or not.

5. I wish I knew that the grass was not greener in another church, in another ministry role, or in another para-church organisation.
It’s easy to let your mind drift to the church down the road and begin to think of how good it must be there. It’s not. It’s just not. They are having the same issues as you. They are having the same struggles. They are having the same problems. The same goes with going into a different ministry role or a role at a para-church organisation. The grass isn’t greener. It’s work. It’s hard.

6. I wish I knew that what I have done in the past doesn’t really mean much to others.
I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life. There are of course some stupid things I’ve done, but generally, I’m pretty proud of some of the things I’ve achieved in life – relationships, study, work, ministry. Guess what? No one cares. Except perhaps for that job interview or the search committee coming up. Other than that, no one cares. I mean, most people have a decent sized ego and so we’d like to think that our achievements matter. X number of years at this church, volunteer years put in at that other church, the secular work we’ve done in the past, the degrees we’ve studied for, the service opportunities we’ve been involved in, et cetera. et cetera. You know, it all builds us up to think that we’ve got some awesome job experience to be an awesome pastor, even before we walk into the role. Nup. That parent of the 14-year-old kid who is annoying each Friday night doesn’t care, they just want to know if you can look after their kid for a couple of hours while they go on a date with their spouse. That deacon doesn’t really care either, they just want to let you know that you can’t park your car at the front of the church because that’s reserved for more significant members of your church.

O how humbling ministry is.

7. I wish I knew that the sin that so easily entangles will entangle you with more force in ministry.
Yep, those things we fear, those habits we slipped into years ago, those things we listen to and watch, those temptations to click. These things will continue. The devil will attempt to strike, and strike with more and more force. I figured it would be easier to let go of those things because of the important and significant work I would be doing in the life of the church. How little did I know! You’ve had a porn habit, watch the devil seek to strike you there. You’re overly insecure, watch the devil play with you. You’re too conscious of your appearance or what people think of you, bang. You’re seeking intimacy and relationships, boom. Sin doesn’t stop. It carries on. And it’s usually coming at you with a force you’ve never seen before.

8. I wish I knew the extent of which church politics would take up headspace and suck my emotional energy. 
There is a lot to be said about getting to know your wider church and being involved in the high level discussions and conversations at your church. Yet, it is also the place where church politics is most clearly seen and can just suck you dry if you let it. This is closely connected to point 3 about church health, but it is surprising at how deeply it can affect us. Some, and perhaps all of it, may not be about the ministries we are involved in. It might be to do with the budget, or with the way the flowers are arranged on Sunday mornings, or how the coffee and tea is served at morning tea. It might have nothing to do with your ministry at all, yet something small and insignificant can get us down and consume the rest of the day if we let it.

9. I wish I knew that people don’t need me to tell them what to do, they need the grace of God applied.
I remember the first few months of going to church after I’d finished up on staff at a previous church. I took the opportunity to visit various churches and also went back to our home church. What I distinctly remember was that every time I walked out I felt like I had more burdens than when I arrived. I felt like I’d been given a good sermon and good teaching, but when it came to application I’d be lumped with more and more things to do. My week was already busy. I’m house-hunting, I’m waiting for a newborn to arrive, I’m feeling overwhelmed with my own sense of sinfulness, I’m trying to study hard, I’m looking for a new job. I don’t need application that leaves me feeling like I’ve got to do more in order to get my life back on track. No. What I need is grace. I need the grace of God shown to me. I need the grace of God to make me realise that he is the one my burdens are to go to. All those significant things in life will be before him, given to him, and dealt with by him. I would encourage you to give people grace – kid, parent, young adult, oldie, pastor, ministry volunteer, anyone. When you’re teaching, give them grace. Apply grace.

10. I wish I knew how to work better.
I had been in the health and fitness industry for a couple of years before I moved into ministry. A few more years and I took up my first position in a church. I am an organised and systematic person naturally, but it still took me a number of years to work out a decent workflow system. Things like getting your emails down to zero, planning your calendar, working out how long things would take, making to-do-lists, dealing with budgets, how to think through a project like a camp or one-off event. The non-people work side of stuff. What is that? Administration. For this I’d recommend Tim Challies’ “Do More Better“, which only came out a little while ago. It covers what you’d need. And I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much administration you find yourself doing.

***While I shared the above there was a glaring omission from the list, one which every Youth Pastor needs to know.***

11. I wish I knew it was such a privilege
Not until I left my first church did I realise how much of a privilege it is to be such an influence in the lives of young people and students. The trust, affection, openness, and vulnerability people have toward you is simply amazing at times. The position you have and the places you find yourself in as you disciple young people is phenomenal. While it can be long, frustrating, and messy work there is the privilege of guiding people in life decisions, applying the Gospel to people’s lives, and celebrating their growth as people and disciples.

What a wonderful work it is. 

What Building Sandcastles Teaches You About Youth Ministry

On holidays our family has been hitting up the beach. With the beach comes sand. And while I know a number of people who aren’t big fans of such creation there are awesome sandcastles to be made with it. Yesterday was our opportunity to achieve such heights of awesomeness. 

Our daughter was sick of the beach after only 30 minutes. Considering the effort it took to get there we weren’t leaving anytime soon. So to help entertain her we began making sandcastles together. The conditions were perfect with the right balance of dry and wet sand. And after picking our spot we created a fairly sizeable sandcastle city with roads, tunnels, bridges, hills, castles and village houses.


Post-sandcastle fun I’ve thought about how this activity can teach those of us in youth ministry a thing or two. So, here are five ways building sandcastles can teach you (and me) about youth ministry. 

(1) You need a team

This was a great activity for my daughter and I to do together. The wife also joined in at times, while our young son looked on. But the experience of building this sandcastle city was made better by doing it together. I could’ve made the thing on my own but this wouldn’t have been as fun, nor would there have been as many ideas about what to build, and the shared experience of doing this together would be non-existent. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

Doing it by yourself can work but it won’t be nearly as good. Youth ministry is great fun together as a team, the ideas coming from each unique person involved is essential in growing faith and community. Furthermore, the shared experience of being on a youth ministry team, serving one another and the church, is something you hold dear for years and years. 

(2) You get dirty 

It’s sand. Sand gets in places you’d never think it could get to. It isn’t the most pleasant flooring to kneel on. It gets in your eyes with every gust of wind. And in my case, it cakes on to my thick matte of leg hair. Building sandcastles means you need to be all in and be ready to get dirty. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

The obvious link here is to refer to the classic youth group night of “messy games”. Of course, you’re going to get messy when playing games involving eggs, tomato sauce, and cooked spaghetti. Messy games are part of any good youth ministry repertoire. 

At a deeper level, getting dirty refers to being involved in the lives of young people and their families. It is physically and emotionally taxing to be helping people with their mental health, sexuality, drugs, alcohol, relationships, family crisis, death, school stress, and other growing pains. It’s a dirty work in this sense. 

(3) You need patience

Building something from scratch, even something as small as a two square metre sandcastle, can take time. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

People take time to grow in life and faith. Being in a ministry that deals with young people who are 11-18 years-old means patience is required. You’re not going to see results in six months. It takes years for the seeds of youth ministry to sprout fruit. 

It’s been said to me by a number of long-term Youth Pastors that they felt most effective after six years. Six years! It is quite rare in the Australian context to find a Youth Pastor who sticks around for more than three years in one church, let alone six. More Youth Pastors need to stay, and recognise that patience in the ministry is required. 

This isn’t all about young Youth Pastors though. Long-term youth ministry volunteers are needed too. It’s the volunteers who more often than not have greater influence long-term than any fly-by-the-night Youth Pastor. 

(4) You make mistakes

At one point in our sandcastle building my daughter and I were digging tunnels under roads and castles. In a couple of areas we hadn’t evaluated the wetness of the sand and soon found the tunnels collapsing, the whole thing folding in on itself. When we tried to make a river flow, in order to create a moat, a group of village houses were taken away in a flood. We made a few mistakes as we build this little sand city. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

Mistakes are bound to be made when you serve in youth ministry. In fact, if you don’t make mistakes you’re probably not trying hard enough.

But mistakes can happen at a variety of levels. Not having enough balls for a game of dodgeball is one thing, writing an angry late night email to a parent is another. Hiring an expensive bus and not having enough kids to cover the costs is one thing, undermining your senior pastor in front of others is another. Not turning up on time to meet one of the young adults is one thing, choosing a person who hasn’t got the character to join the leadership team is another. 

The level and variety of mistakes vary in youth ministry. Some will be of little impact. Others, however, could derail an event, program or the whole ministry.

(5) You will find delight

There was little more satisfying than spending time with my daughter building sandcastles yesterday. It was a delight to play with her and talk with her about what we were doing. We searched for pieces of driftwood to build bridges, and joined hands in tunnels we made. It was a delightful experience. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

While youth ministry may have a number of challenges there is a certain delight that comes with it.

First, seeing young people grow in faith, connecting in with a community of people who accept them, and serving others together as a group, all these bring personal delight. Looking back after a number of years and seeing how young men and women have grown always blows my mind. Being able to help them and their families as they struggle with whatever life might bring is a privilege. There is a personal satisfaction and delight in being involved in such a work. 

Second, ultimately it is not youth ministry that needs delighting in. 

It is Jesus. 

It isn’t the ministry that’s important for young people, it’s the person who they follow. This person isn’t the Youth Pastor, or is it the Youth Leader, or the mentor, or the parent, or the friend. 

The person is Jesus. 

If young people find their delight in Christ then the inward delight will come to anyone involved in youth ministry. But may it be that they delight in their Creator as He delights in them. 

Growing Young – Prioritize Young People (and Families) Everywhere

This is post six in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , four and five.


A church that confines the involvement of young people to their youth group won’t be a church that young people or emerging adults hang around too long. The whole church needs to be a place where young people and their families can participate.

This chapter in Growing Young makes the case for churches to focus on young people and their families in everything they do. Whether it be the Sunday service, the children’s ministry, the working bee, the missions team, or the cleaning roster. In every area of church life the question to be asked is: How can young people participate? 

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This is not just a superficial or patronising question. Well, it’s not meant to be. It’s a question that needs to be asked by churches and ministry leaders not so more young people come to the program or event but so that young people have active involvement in leading and shaping it.

This question becomes a church culture question: How is the church thinking about the participation of young people and families in the life of the church? 

“How do churches that grow young make youth and emerging adults a greater priority? When they think about budget, strategy, worship planning, programming, community life, theology, and all other aspects of church life, they think about young people. They intentionally pay attention.”

One of the most significant comments in this chapter is about the role of parents in a young person’s faith. It has been and continues to be found that “…parents still carry the most important weight in their kids’ faith development.”

This begs the question: What are we as Pastors and churches doing to encourage the parents to discuss faith within the home? 

Only three days ago I was in a conversation about how churches have a big focus on children’s and youth ministries, as well as a support focus with older people, but those going through the middle season of life, the parents and adults, are basically left to there lonesome.

“Research continues to affirm that the best predictor of a young person’s faith is the faith of their parents. That means the role of ministry leaders who care about kids also must include the care, equipping, and formation of parents and families…According to pastoral leaders, when parents are intentional about faith building outside of church, overall faith maturity and vibrancy within the congregation rises even more.”

It’s a no brainer for those in children’s, youth and family ministry to begin focusing more on the parents than the kids themselves. Continue to work and have programs in these areas but begin the culture shift through encouraging and engaging parents in their role as faith-builders.

So what could this look like in the life of a youth ministry?

  • Send an email or message that talks about what aspect of faith the youth ministry is focussing on at the moment.
  • Give parents a few questions to help them initiate faith conversations in the home.
  • Suggest a reading plan for the family to do together.
  • Run an afternoon tea where all the parents are in the room and they get to chat and find support with others in the same situation.
  • Start talking about how you are a church or ministry that partners with parents.

In regard to the other parts of this chapter, seeking to prioritise young people and families in the church. It might be a good time to review the ministry structure and evaluate where young people are involved and where they are not and what needs to be changed.

I have to say that this mind-shift is something that can take a bit of time. It is a cultural shift for a church focussed on a programmatic approach to children’s and youth ministry with little engagement of parents.


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

Growing Young – Keychain Leadership

This is post two in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one


When I was 16 I was given my first chance to preach.

When I was 17 I was put in charge of a youth service held each term.

When I was 18 our Youth Pastor left and I was given the opportunity to be the ‘Youth Coordinator’ by the church leadership. I still have the letter of recommendation from the Chairman of the Diaconate at the time.

These three experiences are examples of keychain leadership in action.

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Keychain leadership is the term used in Growing Young to describe the type of leadership framework churches ‘growing young’ operate with. This type of leadership attracts and keeps ‘young people’ by walking alongside them and handing over access, influence, and responsibility in the various ministries of the church.

Growing Young uses the illustration of handing over keys to youth and young adults, which gives them access and influence in certain segments of the church. For example, when growing up in a home there comes a time where you get your own house key. Then once you’ve got your license there is a time when you get your own car key. When you begin to work there may be a time when you get your own office key or swipe card. These are examples of physical keys being handed over but they are also symbolic of access, influence, and responsibility.

In the local church it is similar. There are different people in the church who hold different keys. Some of these keys might be physical. The key to the church building, to the church office, to the children’s ministry cupboard et cetera. At other times the illustration of a key may simply be symbolic and so it becomes the access, influence and responsibility you have to decision-makers, meetings, and committees.

As Growing Young says:

“Keys provide access to physical rooms and spaces as well as strategic meetings, significant decisions and central roles or places of authority. The more power you have the more keys you tend to possess…If you are willing to entrust your keys to young people they will trust you with their hearts, their energy, their creativity and even their friends.”

Generally the more keys you hold the more influence and power you have within the church. Sometimes this influence and power is kept close and can become an idol. You may have seen people in churches, as I have, use this power and influence for their own doing and the position and keys become something of an ego trip. But when used wisely and in a godly manner those who hold these keys can be of great help to the local church and the kingdom of God.

For me, the main encouragement and challenge within this chapter and research was the following comment:

“Keychain leaders model a posture of giving away access and authority. This posture not only empowers others but also meaningfully links them to the life of the congregation…The more transparent the leader is personally and the church is organisationally the better positioned the church seems to be to grow young.”

This simple idea of keychain leadership was something modelled to me so doesn’t take me long to get my head around. Perhaps it was a key factor in me sticking around at church? Yet, it also raises some questions. Here are four particular areas I thought this chapter spoke in to.

1. My Leadership

What of my leadership? How do I seek to include, encourage, and grow others in ministry? Am I able to replicate what I’ve been taught and release control of the the things the control-freak within me wants to keep to myself?

2. Leading Volunteers

Those of us in ministry always seem to be talking about how we don’t have enough people involved and active in the life of our churches. This chapter made me think this ‘issue’ is probably more of a reflection on our own leadership than the congregation we’re involved in.

3. Side-by-Side Leadership

Keychain leadership, as described in Growing Young, is not a give-the-key-and-run type mentality. It is a leadership style that is side-by-side. It requires a mentor-mentee relationship. There is freedom and guidance operating at the same time. There is opportunity for people to grow and lead and have influence while providing a place for feedback and correction. This kind of setup seems to make sense to me and has worked within my life, as I know it has with others. It is certainly a posture I’d like to foster in my own ministry.

4. Intergenerational Leadership

One of the key issues for churches to begin thinking like this, however, is whether those who hold the keys now are willing to pass the baton? Generally, those who have the keys now are older, sometimes a lot older. Are they willing to show leadership and begin giving over authority, influence, and access to ‘young people’ in their church?

Is it time to hand over a certain key to a young person and walk with them as they put their own stamp on the ministry? 


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

Growing Young

In #YouthMin world September 20, 2016, was a big day. The people over at Fuller Youth Institute released their latest book, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. This is the culmination of many years and many pages of research and data to help the church understand what makes ‘young people’ stay in church and committed to their faith.

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I picked up the book a few days after release and am slowly making my way through it. But as an exercise in reflection I hope to write a few posts about the book as I read it, and hopefully provide some application into the youth ministry context here in Australia.

If you’re a Youth Pastor or in youth ministry then it would’ve been hard to ignore the impressive launch of the book. There were plenty of posts leading up to the release and on the day it was available there were numerous interviews with the authors.

Growing Young has eight chapters. The first being a summary of the book and the final chapter putting the learnings into practice. The rest of the book describe in detail the six core commitments churches who are growing young are doing. These six core commitments are:

  1. Unlock keychain leadership
  2. Empathise with today’s young people
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously
  4. Fuel a warm community
  5. Prioritise young people (and families) everywhere
  6. Be the best neighbours

From the outset this book brings a positive look to church and engaging ‘young people’ in church and faith. It’s a shame no one can think of a better phrase than ‘young people’, because it makes me sounds tremendously old and I cringe as I write it. Yet, it is ‘the young people’ who are exiting the church in droves with 40-50% of those in youth groups today drifting away from God and a faith community when they finish up high school. This is a harrowing fact and one I suspect most Youth Pastors, parents, and churches can resonate with anecdotally, even here in Australia.

It seems, however, there are pockets of hope and encouragement as the church seeks to engage young people in faith and church. Those churches growing, and ‘growing young’, are doing so through (1) engaging well with 15-29 year olds, and (2) are churches which are growing spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and sometimes numerically. This leads the FYI authors to say that in order to grow young everyone and every generation in the church needs to be involved, by doing so it will actually energise the whole church.

While the six core commitments state what is needed to help a church grow young there are a number of points that are not necessary for a church to grow young. These things include:

  • A precise size
  • A trendy location
  • An exact age
  • A popular denomination or no denomination at all
  • An off-the charts cool quotient
  • A big modern building
  • A big budget
  • A ‘contemporary’ worship service
  • A watered-down teaching style
  • A hyper-entertaining ministry program

This certainly gives me hope. To know that you don’t have to be big, cool, soft on teaching, and have all the bells and whistles of what is assumed to be an awesome youth ministry then I’m all in! This is not to say that I’m against these things, but it allows churches and those in youth ministry to be realistic about how to engage ‘young people’ in faith and not worry about superficial things.

The research also found that churches who did grow young and were focussed on doing so energised their own congregation because ‘the young people’ added more service, more passion, more innovation, more money, and greater overall health to the church. And who doesn’t want a church with these things?

So it comes back to these six core commitments, and I’ll explore each one in later posts. But for now, with that summary of the book in mind, I wonder what strikes you?

For me, this causes me to reflect on how churches go about thinking through their youth and young adult ministries. Whether they see them as separate entities of the church looked after by a Youth Pastor or whether they genuinely think of them as part of the overall church, part of the family of God, and giving opportunity for them to serve in meaningful and significant ways within the church community.

As a local congregation, is your church engaging ‘young people’? Is this a focus? Is there a willingness to make significant changes to do so?


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

 

What’s Changed In Youth Ministry In 4 Years?

As I mentioned in my post last week I’ve been supporting and encouraging youth ministry from behind the front lines over the last four years. Working in a young adult role in a missions organisation and as a pastoral care facilitator for my denomination has kept me aware of what’s been going on. Even though I’ve only been back in the grassroots of youth ministry for a month I’ve already noticed a few changes across those years. I thought I’d name five here.

So, what’s changed in youth ministry in four years?

1. Communication

Instagram was still a start-up and not yet bought out by Facebook. Facebook was still growing and working out pages and groups. I was at the end of my iPhone 3GS contract. Snapchat didn’t exist. Twitter was Twitter. Churches using e-newsletters wasn’t really done. Podcasts were only just emerging as a new way to hear content.

As I step into this role, and particularly working with under 25s, I see the huge change in terms of communication tools available. If I wanted to I could add Social Media co-ordinator to my title and job description as Youth Pastor.

The ability to communicate with youth, young adults, parents, and the wider church has exploded and while at times this could get confusing I think it’s terrific. We are in the relational business after all, and these communication tools just help.

Four years ago I was still sending out hardcopies of the term program by snail mail. Part of that was to make sure everyone connected to us received something of their own, but on the other hand, it was snail mail.

Communication has changed heaps in just four years and in many ways for the better, if used well.

2. Experience

I’m really only talking about the Youth Pastors here in the Baptist church in Victoria, this is my experience. Although, I do notice other states and denominations who are experiencing the same.

There have been some great Youth Pastors that I’ve looked up to, rubbed shoulders with, and leant a lot from. They have had good youth ministries and continue to do ministry. Many, however, have moved on to other things, either in the para-church world or up into the Senior Pastor gig.

In my denominational role last year I saw this firsthand. There are plenty of newbies coming into youth ministry, and this is terrific and important and a must. I just pray that they might be able to get the mentoring and development I was able to have through the system.

And as an ageing Youth Pastor myself I know I’m part of that process. The coming five years will be a challenging and critical time to continue to train those coming through the youth ministry system.

3. Methodology

15 years ago many youth ministries were simply running a weekly program with games and a short devotional talk toward the end of the night. 5 years ago games nights were moving more toward small group nights with a social focus. Now I see many youth ministries running a worship service every Friday night.

Variety in youth ministry is important. Of course. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find some approaches difficult to understand. In many ways we need to be thinking through the context of our churches more than we probably do. Like any good missionary we need to be asking the question of ‘why we do the things we do?’

Whatever the case, there has certainly been a broadening out of what youth ministries do with their main gatherings. How are you thinking through the way you do youth ministry?

4. Conferences

There were heaps of conferences four years ago, I won’t deny that. But now there are even more!

When I look at the possibility of taking my youth leaders or youth group to particular conferences I find I have far too many choices. Each conference has its own emphasis and is designed to reach different audiences or theological camps. But even before I started a month ago I could see that on almost any weekend from January to Easter I could go to something.

It’s great to get teaching and training through different conferences. I was inspired to get back into youth ministry after a conference last year, around this time. But certainly when we talk Melbourne-based conferences, there seem to be a lot.

5. Training

Speaking of training, there is now an increase of information and training ready to be absorbed by any Youth Pastor willing to learn.

In four years there have been new books written in the youth ministry field. There is an increase in articles and bloggers focussing on youth ministry. I’ve already spoken about conferences, and now that podcasts are readily available there’s even more input to be had. Speaking of podcasts there’s this really good Australian-based one called The National Youth Ministry with Brenton Killeen and Jimmy Young. 🙂 I’ve also found some of the seminary lectures on youth ministry in iTunes U helpful too.

Training can be found almost everywhere and the better trained we are as Youth Pastors the better we will be. I still don’t think anything beats a mentor or colleague for help with youth ministry and training but there are a fair few more resources out now than there were four years ago.

Well, those are some of my observations over the last few years. How do you see the landscape? Has it changed much in your neck of the woods in the last few years? I’d love to hear you thoughts. 

The Ageing Youth Pastor

For the last four years I’ve been behind the front lines supporting and encouraging Youth Pastors as they work on the ground in youth ministry. Time out has been good but for a while now I’ve missed it. Hence, I’m back and loving this new season here at Rowville Baptist.

Jan_Lievens_-_Study_of_an_Old_Man_-_WGA13006It goes without saying that in the last four years I’ve aged. Everyone has. The guys I tracked with in my previous church were finishing up in Year 12, now they’re about to finish uni. I haven’t been a Youth Pastor in my 30s until now. I didn’t have a daughter four years ago.

This isn’t a bad thing. Not at all.

In fact, I think it is to my advantage coming back from a little break.

As I’ve reflected on this in the last few weeks I’ve noticed three particular things about myself that I believe will help me be a better Youth Pastor this time around.

1. Passion

I’ve realised my passion for youth and young adult ministry in a church setting has stayed strong. It’s where my sweet spot is. It’s what I enjoy doing and where I’m confident in being fruitful for the kingdom.

In fact, it’s off the back of a conference last year where I began to think seriously about getting back into the day-to-day of youth ministry and the low embers were fanned back into flame.

2. Perspective

In four years I’ve been given a lot of perspective.

Through the all-consuming nature of church ministry it is hard to see the forest for the trees. I’ve realised what a privilege it is to be walking with people as they explore faith and seek to follow Jesus. Being part of that can feel overwhelming and monotonous if you don’t have some perspective. I’ve been able to look at what’s important and what’s a waste of time to worry about. It’s been refreshing, particularly for someone who was born into a Baptist church 33 years ago.

There are of course stresses that come in the short-term but it is the longer-term view that is so important to have. The slow growth of the gospel working its way into people’s lives and helping them to become more like Jesus. Youth ministry isn’t a fast game, as much as I’d love it to be, it’s for those who see God building His church in His time.

3. Productivity

Finally, I’ve become more productive.

I’ve learnt how I work best, when I work best, and what tools I need to work more efficiently and effectively.

Tim Challies recently wrote a book called Do More Better, in which he explains a system to help people work more productively. I was pleased that the three tools he uses were the ones I’d been using for a while (FYI – Google Calendar, Evernote and Todoist). It takes time to learn how to work and particularly in a role that is so flexible.

If you’re a Youth Pastor I’d encourage you to work on your system. What are the things in your life that help you work at your best? Are you a morning or evening person? Are you planning well, in life and ministry? Are you getting enough exercise or recreation in order to function at your best?

These are three observations about myself that I’ve noticed since being back in church-based ministry.

What about you, what observations can you make about yourself as you age as a Youth Pastor?

The Sadness Of Ministry Closure

When things come to a close it can be a sad time.

When we come back from overseas after a wonderful holiday, when we say good-bye after a lovely dinner with friends, when the inspiring movie could have gone on much longer but had to come to an end. There is often the feeling of sadness.

So it is with youth ministries and programs that come to a close.

The Sadness Of Ministry Closure

At a recent ministry meeting a team of us decided to close a ministry that has been going on in our church for the last three years. For the past 18 months many of the main leaders in this program have left and moved onto other things. Others have simply stopped participating and helping out, not making it a priority. And some, sadly, have left the church and the faith altogether.

The feeling of the team was that it is best to lay the program down for a season or two.

And, it is sad.

It is sad because it is something many have put their hearts and souls into.

It is sad because it is a ministry that was loved by parents, students, and the wider church.

It is sad because relationships were strained because of the program and the stress involved.

It is sad because the investment of money, time, and effort into something like this brings with it an emotional connection.

But my pastor, who chaired the meeting, reminded us all of John 12:24,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

Our ministries, and church programs, including our precious youth group or camp or event, are like the grain. Sometimes they must fall to earth and die in order for more fruit to be produced.

Looking at this verse in closer context we see that some Greeks have come to see Jesus. From Andrew to Peter the message of these visitors is passed on to Jesus. Jesus responds by telling these visitors that his time to be glorified is close, very close.

What the…?

We find shortly after that Jesus is actually referring to his death. Through his death the disciples and the believers will bear much fruit.

But as Jesus continues to speak he says the following in v25-26:

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.”

What a challenge!

It seems we are to look to do the things of God, look to do the work of Jesus, which is to die and be a sacrifice to the world.

How then does this relate to ministries and programs dying? 

Well, maybe it is the case of having to let them die so that more fruit can come from the wider ministries of the church. And maybe, just maybe, it is the case that we are to adjust our focus to Christ and look closely at how we serve him, realigning our ministries with his.