The relationships you form in youth ministry are arguably the most important part of doing your job well. It’s critical to healthy ministry to look beyond the obvious relationships–parents, chaperones, the youth themselves–and develop intentional relationships in other areas that will build communication and support within your church & community. This isn’t by any means a complete list; feel free to add your own in the comments section. But here are 5 good ones:
1. Your senior pastor
Duh. But don’t let this one go, even if it’s a one-way flow of communication at times. If he or she is a twit that doesn’t have your back 90% of the time, that makes this relationship more important, not less. Over-explain. Never let them be surprised by your calendar/changes in ministry/plans for the future. Win them over, or take comfort in their itinerant nature. But keep up your side of the relationship, no matter what.
2. Your most conservative mom
This is a programming trick I probably actually developed while I was still in middle school. My mom was the most conservative mom and I remember concern after concern piling up about the youth ministry at our church over insignificant things that could have been easily avoided as points of conflict. Find your most conservative mom (you probably already know who she is) and take her to lunch. Hear out her heart for the ministry of your church. She might not like PG-13 movies, but she probably has a good eye for discipleship.
3. Your facilities manager
Every ministry in your church at some point runs afoul of building services, whether they know it or not. This is a sticky one, because building services can look vastly different from church to church. Some hire out all custodial work to outside agencies. Some rely on volunteers. In all situations, there’s generally someone that is responsible for scheduling/setup/verify cleanup of the physical plant. Be that person’s friend. That person has conversations across a cross-section of your congregation that rivals your pastors–and they don’t have to pull any punches. You want them to speak well of you. Communicate program hours and building use. Err on the side of cleaning up your own messes. Find ways to make their job easier. They’ll love you for it.
4. School administrators
And teachers, too. Again, a tough one depending upon your context. Church staff in public schools vary greatly in welcome from school system to school system. But find ways to befriend the administration of your schools. If you’ve got an open door, great. Be in that school every day. If you don’t, you can slow-play your way in–attend your youth’s games & concerts. While you’re there, go out of your way to engage administration. Become a familiar face. A day will come that they need you; be someone that they remember.
Not your seniors; the ones that have been members of the church for 50 years. You don’t need a service project–just show up. Spend some time with them one on one. You’ll develop some of the warmest friendships of your life. You will stumble upon some great service projects in those friendships; following through on those will foster some wonderful inter-generational opportunities. If none of that motivates you, make no mistake–these people can usually decide your fate as an employee in the course of an afternoon. Prepare your cheeks for pinching.
It may be impossible for you to have productive friendships through that entire list. But what you may not realize if you’re just getting started in ministry is that maintaining healthy interaction in a majority of those will likely help balance out tension in the ones where you’re struggling. And remember that genuineness is key in any relationship–most people can smell a manipulative ministry rat from a mile away. Don’t be that.
Who am I forgetting? What relationships have benefited you and your church’s ministry the most?