I have had the privilege of working with students from our church and surrounding communities for over fourteen years now. I believe that longevity in youth ministry is a real thing with real value, but it’s not accomplished in an isolation chamber. Many resources and relationships have helped and continue to help us reach the next generation in and around Steamboat Rock, Iowa.
When I was in my first couple years of ministry, I was having a conversation with another pastor who had led at several churches, and he said that he made a commitment to never make deep friendships within a church because “he never knew when he might be finished pastoring in that location.” As a newbie, I didn’t think too much about his firm words, but then a couple years later, I recalled that conversation and thought to myself, “That is horrible advice!” Friendships and key relationships within a church are huge to youth pastors and youth leaders reaching out to students over time.
As youth workers know, a school year of ministry is filled with many challenges along the way. I can honestly say that friendships our family has developed within our church and community helped us weather the storms of angry parents, botched trips, missed calendar items, and events with minimal participation. To say it best, the most impacting thing for me as a youth leader has been the people around me. As youth workers, do all that you can to develop some great friendships, especially those that help care for you as a person, not just as a youth leader.
Team Effort – Say No to Lone Ranger
If you have a personality where you like things to be done in your timing and the perceived “correct” way, it can be difficult to draw others into investing in the lives of students. A volunteer team of adults has been a huge encouragement to me along the way. Not only do they help out in numerous ways during our weekly ministries, they also provide friendship and comradery in our world of youth ministry. Their love and investment in small groups of students encourages me to continue the race of helping more students follow Jesus. As they serve, it makes me want to work harder to set them up to win. If you currently don’t have volunteers (or you are a solo volunteer in your church), pray for God to provide some more adults to invest in the lives of students, and don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask others to help you!
About seven or eight years into being a youth pastor, I signed up for a seminary class on retreats and camps. At this point, I had led several mission trips and attended many camps and retreats. A pastor friend asked, “Why are you taking a class like that after all of these years as a youth pastor?” I told him I signed up for the class because I thought I could get better at some of these areas and to possibly learn a few new things. From books to classes to conferences, a good youth leader never stops learning. Tons of other jobs require continuing education to keep working in a specific field. I think there’s something to be said there. I serve at a church that both budgets and encourages me to take continuing education every year. It isn’t always convenient to take a week or weekend to do this, as it requires taking time away from a full ministry schedule and my family, but taking the time has always been beneficial. It’s given me creative ideas for ministry, provided soul care and personal spiritual growth, and helped me to see the theological significance of why I and our church invest in students. Some of the continued learning that has been most helpful over the years have been Youth Specialties Conferences, seminary classes or time studying specific subjects away from the office, and VantagePoint3 materials.
Getting Help in Many Places
Some of my other favorite resources over the years that have helped me, challenged me, and encouraged me in the youth ministry world are:
- Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries – This is a great book for a church leadership team to really process the role of a youth ministry in the local church. This will help a church really evaluate the “why” and “how” of doing youth ministry in a local church setting, and it also debunks the myth that having a lone ranger, rock star youth pastor will solve all issues in your youth ministry.
- The Be-With Factor by Bo Boshers and Judson Poling – This book is an oldie but a goodie. In my opinion, adult mentors are key to some deep spiritual transformation that can take place in the lives of students. This quick-read book helps volunteers and potential mentors see that mentoring doesn’t have to be another block of time in a busy schedule; it can be much more organic and fit into the normal routine of life.
- Sticky Faith by Kara E. Powell and Chap Clark – This is a book that came out of a research project done by Fuller Youth Institute that evaluated the faith of graduating high school seniors. Specifically, the project sought to help families and churches be intentional in areas that contributed most to students owning and growing in their faith beyond high school. This project changed my outlook and how we do certain things within our youth ministry.
- Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (cpyu.org) – This is a website that I like to read from time to time that gives some insight into the ever-changing world of teen culture. Dr. Walt Mueller, a youth ministry veteran, runs this organization with the hope of building strong families by bridging the cultural/generational gap between parents and teenagers.
- The Source four Youth Ministry (thesource4ym.com) and The Source for Parents (www.thesource4parents.com) – I believe one of the ways we win in our youth ministries is if we help our parents and families win. As a parent of two middle school students, it’s hard to keep up on trends in pop culture, music, and movies. I don’t believe we have to be experts on these things, but having a little bit of knowledge on these matters is important as we have conversations with our kids and students. I check each of these websites monthly and pass on important articles and trends to parents when I think it is beneficial. Our church is also excited to have the founder of this ministry, Jonathan McKee, leading a parenting seminar on the power of social media in November.
Steamboat Rock Baptist Church