If you are feeling the need to take a deep breath in Youth Ministry right now, please do. Most likely you have been moving at a fanatical pace as you re-launch Sunday school, Bible study, youth group and any other activities for the new school based year. After 25 years in Youth Ministry, I always realize (about now) that I was well intentioned about getting a few things done as I started up in August/September yet here I am once again with little to show for my best intentions. Early on I would just say, “well, there is always next year” (which maybe being a true Red Sox fan is just in my DNA about playoff time!). Eventually I decided I could still do some important things that help Youth Ministry in my context be more sustainable even if I did them a month or two later than I planned (I didn’t have to wait for a new year).
So, here you go: eleven things you can do right now!
1) Put out a paper calendar for the year. OK, you may be thinking “lame” as it is the digital age and all but hear me out. Parents (and Sr. pastors) like to see a hard copy of the plan for the year. When will the retreat be? When will you recognize Seniors? When is summer camp? When is mission trip? Ski trip? Is there a Valentine’s dinner that the Youth will sponsor again this year for the older members of the congregation? Don’t let it all wait for your edgy digital email blast, make a simple list on paper and mail it to everybody this one time.
2) Think about the one or two parents that may not be very happy with you for whatever reason and set up a proactive meeting with them. Don’t be afraid of criticism and don’t let negative feelings fester. Get ahead of the curve. Sit down one on one, listen and don’t get defensive. Follow the meeting up in writing outlining 1-2 action steps you will take to address their valid concerns (and then make sure you take them). (Editor’s note: If you don’t think this step is important, check out Kevin’s article about how easy it is get fired.)
3) Form a Youth Council. You’ve been putting it off for a couple of years because it is just easier to do everything yourself. Well, it just isn’t easier. Let the Youth lead their own ministry and you will have more time to be their minister (and they need you to be their minister).
4) Meet with your Senior Pastor and talk through any issues she sees with your ministry. This gives you a safe space to hear expectations and it is always better if you initiate the conversation. Plan new ways for your Senior Pastor to be involved in a meaningful way a couple more times this year than last. Let them know what you truly need in support and how you hope to grow spiritually this year.
5) Take the music minister to lunch. Not that this has ever happened before but there is always the potential of hard feeling between departments. Build relationships with your other staff members especially if YOU don’t particularly like them OR if you perceive they do not like you. Listen often. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t be defensive. Just enjoy lunch and build the relationship to a stronger place than it was last year.
6) Take the children’s minister to lunch. Plan some new ways that the two departments can be in ministry together. Talk about transitions. Find out how you can be more supportive. Listen more than you speak. This is not a time to complain, it is a time to build trust.
7) Read your Bible. Yeah, yeah, yeah…..you do it already for Bible Study preparation. Hey, you want to be an actual disciple right? Read the Bible for YOU. This is important for your faith journey. Read a Gospel. Read Genesis. Read Ephesians. Read the Psalms. There you go. A whole 1-year plan. Go slow. Read a commentary alongside the Bible. Underline, highlight, memorize. Let the Holy Scripture ooze into your soul. Pray each verse. Listen for the Holy Spirit. Own your faith journey. Don’t put it off.
8) Pray daily. Now I am stepping on toes. I know. Every good intention to pray sometime soon is simply not prayer. And don’t pray a laundry list. God already knows. Pray your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams and then shut up and listen. You have one mouth but two ears. Listen to God twice as long. Don’t hear anything? Listen longer. It takes time. Write out your prayers in a journal. Revisit them weekly, monthly, yearly. God IS doing a new thing! And God is doing it in you! Your prayer time will show you how.
9) Take 1 Sabbath Day a week. DON’T do anything Youth Ministry related 1 day a week. 24 hours. Block the day out on your calendar. Get serious about it. It is great to do God-stuff. Just stop doing your job for 1 day. Read a novel. Enjoy the outdoors. Just be. Hang out with people your own age and talk about something other than your job.
10) Take a day and plan some depth to your Youthwork during Advent and Lent. Let this be the year that you help youth grow in their faith in new ways that don’t involve pumpkins or lock-ins. What could you offer, what could youth offer each other that would help in their transformation of the world as disciples of Jesus Christ?
11) Read. You’ve heard me say before that my pet-peeve is that most Youthworkers are just not readers. I understand that. But there is an important discipline in reading something a little longer than a blog post such as this. Heck, Google metrics will tell me next week that most of you didn’t even stay on this page long enough to get to #11! There are a dozen or so deep enriching books written about Youth Ministry. Read at least one this year. Read one chapter a month. Implement the thinking into your context slowly. Read one deep theological book this year. Let theology inform your Youthwork more. Read one book about culture or philosophy or psychology. Read classic literature (and not just Harry Potter and Hunger Games).
There you go. If you just did 1-2 of these things it would be transformative and you will grow as well as your ministry. If you did all 11, WOW, you would be amazing and I would hire you as my life coach! But is anything on this list so ridiculous that you won’t even try?
I’ll be praying for you. Please pray for me. Let’s get started. Now.
Charles W. Harrison