5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Youth Ministry
by Rob Bentz
I have been serving in youth ministry for several years now. I pray that God see’s fit to allow me to serve students for many more years to come.
As the years have come and gone, I have succeeded and failed in ministry. And, some of the beliefs I had about how to serve students, and some of the ways that I used to do ministry have changed.
Along with leading the students at our church, I also have the privilege to train, coach, and consult with youth ministry leaders locally, and globally. Some have been new to the role. Some want to grow their ministries. But, regardless of where they are, one of the most consistently asked questions is, “what have you learned from your time in youth ministry?”
In thinking about this, I thought I would list the 5 things I know now that I wish I knew when I started. We’ll go in reverse order!
5. Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better
When I first got into youth ministry I was drawn toward seeing what the “Big” church’s youth ministries were doing. I thought that the only thing I needed to be successful was a large number of students coming to my student services or gatherings. However, I now realize that size is not the most important way to measure your ministry.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe and trust that God wants our youth ministries to grow and reach as many students and families as possible. But the most important thing is not size, but effectively developing and training students to learn and then live their Christian faith in a REAL way.
If we get caught up in the numbers of youth ministry, we miss out on the “ministry” of youth ministry, which is meeting the needs of those that make up the numbers. They should be our focus! Move past size and do ministry.
4. Just Because You Can Do It Yourself Doesn’t Mean You Should
When I started in youth ministry, I was so excited about what I was doing for God that I wanted to do everything myself. I ended up doing everything myself for a long time. I didn’t understand that in order for you to have an effective and growing youth ministry, you need a team of great servants.
I have learned that one of the most effective ways to grow your youth ministry is by growing the people who serve with you. These people grow best by doing, not watching. Until I learned this, our ministry was only producing based on what I did. Once others got involved, the effectiveness of the ministry grew by leaps and bounds. Move past yourself and get others involved.
3. Everyone Needs A Break
For my first few years in youth ministry I never took a real break, or vacation from the ministry. Sure I had time off, but my mind was still going: thinking, planning, and praying about the ministry. Now I’m not saying that you need to stop thinking, planning, or praying for your ministry, but we ALL need a break in order for us to get refueled and recharged for the ministry.
If you are married and/or have kids they need you to occasionally unplug from ministry. If you are single and don’t have kids, you still need to unplug from the ministry. If you don’t take a real break from ministry at least once a year, and take your days off during the week (or at least one day, mine is Thursday, not only will your chances of burnout increase but some of your effectiveness in ministry will decrease. A good saw needs to be re-sharpened every now and again. Everyone needs a break.
2. Ministry Is More Important Than Motion
When I was just starting in youth ministry, I thought I needed to be doing a whole bunch of stuff in order to be a “real” youth minister. I needed to be going on trips, having lock-ins, hosting pizza parties (why is pizza always the food of choice?), and other time consuming activities. The truth is motion does equal ministry. Only ministry equals ministry.
Doing events or activities is good. But the ministry behind them should be the focus. If there is no ministry in them, why do it? Now I am very selective on what we do in ministry. Not every idea for an event or ministry program makes the calendar. What can you stop doing in your ministry because it’s just motion and not ministry?
1. Your Growth Equals Their Growth
For a long time I thought that ministry growth was tied to how much work the team and I did. I was so wrong. I have learned that the growth of the ministry, and furthermore, the growth of the students in the ministry is tied to how much I grew as their youth leader. How strong was my prayer life? How much did I study the Bible during the week (not looking for a text to preach or teach but just to study for myself)? Your growth and the growth of your team is a direct link to the growth of the students in your ministry.
If you don’t have anything of substance to give them because your well has run dry, their wells are more likely to be dry also. Start to read your Bible seriously just for you, commit to a strong prayer routine, push yourself to grow beyond where you are now.
So, these are the five things I know now that I wish I knew when I started out.
Russell St. Bernard is currently the youth minister at Reid Temple AME Church’s north campus in Silver Spring MD. He has served in youth ministry for over 10 years, and has a passion to see students and families connected to Christ. Check out his blog at http://www.afterthemusicstops.net.