We’ve likely all played a game of “Stay Standing If”. Now, picture a room of hundreds of youth workers playing that game with the host saying, “Stay standing if you’ve been in youth ministry for one year or less” and then they repeat that phrase repeatedly while increasing the number of years.
What you can anticipate is that your group standing will get smaller and smaller as the years increase. And as we consider that, we need to recognize that God calls some to shorter seasons in youth ministry than others.
As I thought about the implications from being in youth ministry for a longer season, I wound up making a list of some of those implications. As you hear/read my list, please know that there is no hierarchical order to them, and I assume that you might be easily able to add to my list.
10 Implications from a Long Haul in Youth Ministry
#1 – I fathom that early on in ministry, the credentials that churches look for are things like degrees and youth ministry training attended, but that as youth workers age, that the credentials that churches look for are more tied to a person’s experiences in youth ministry.
#2 – As a youth worker’s tenure grows at a church, often that youth worker will experience an increased sense of trust from students, their parents and church leadership.
#3 – While some things might become more instinctual with age/experience —- one of the ways that I have needed help is in keeping up with technology. Technology can be a great friend in ministry, but it can also cause frustrations especially as technology continues to make advancements faster than we age.
#4 – When I began in vocational youth ministry, I was three years older than my oldest students, so for many of those students I was almost a peer. Now as a father of a student in my youth ministry I am no longer their peer but now I am a “trusted adult”. As we mature/age, the way that students relate to us will as well. As I consider this reality, the truth is that students need both younger mature Christians in their lives, and they need those who are older.
#5 – When I began in ministry, I hesitate to admit it, but parents scared me. I might have almost seen them as the enemy to my ministry to their students. Looking back, I now see that as a foolish way to have seen them. From my experience, as you grow as youth workers, parents will stop being seen in that way and they will start to be seen as essential in the spiritual lives of their students. As this happens, I believe that this increases our capacity to minister to parents.
#6 – As a young youth worker I was good for two lock-ins per year and then as I got older it morphed to one per year. As I think about that, my last lock-in happened two weeks before our area shut down for COVID. And as we come out of COVID, I might just be ok if there isn’t another lock-in. For me, lock-ins are becoming curse words.
#7 – As your tenure as a youth worker grows, I believe that there will likely be fruits that are evident in your life with increased maturity, biblical knowledge, and other gifts that will grow in you.
#8 – Even though I haven’t spent my whole tenure in the same church, I continue to stay within a radius of many of my former students. On one occasion I was a former student’s pastor (not at the church where I was their youth pastor) and had we stayed there longer, I would have been that student’s son’s pastor. On another occasion I took a former student’s son to our youth convention. My point is, that it’s pretty cool to have an impact in your students’ lives as they grow up and become parents.
#9 – In 24 years of vocational youth ministry I have had two students tragically killed while I was their youth pastor, two more who passed away after I moved from their church, I’ve had two students lose their parents and I’ve witnessed a sad long list of other trying scenarios. My point is, be prepared to know that the longer you remain in ministry – to expect the unexpected challenging hard issues.
#10 – Having offered the previous point, I need to bring a complementary point to that, and that is that with the more experience you gain, the more equipped you might be for those hardships. Be encouraged to know that as you mature and gain experience, the more prepared you will be for other unforeseen hardships.
As you see this list, I would love to hear what other insights you have. Please feel free to send me an email at [email protected] with any ideas that you have.
Let me close with this encouragement and challenge: Be encouraged to stay in youth ministry as long as God calls and know that the longevity can bear much fruit.
26 Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters.27 Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.”