For the church that wants to provide direction to young people in a world swirling with constant change, there is a significant need for youth ministry leaders to stay in their leadership positions for longer periods of time. This is hard to do! The world around us encourages change, and youth ministry culture by its very nature sabotages longevity. How do you as a youth leader get into a long-time mindset when you don’t even know what you are going to eat for dinner tonight? These days, people are not programmed for the long run. We think differently. Our sound bite, fast food, 24/7 world fights against the stable, reliable, and predictable, especially when it comes to youth ministry.
But stable, reliable, and predictable is what youth need.
Here are 10 considerations to consider as you move toward longevity in youth ministry:
1) “Fall in Love”
When it comes to work, it helps to do what you love and love what you do. So it follows that, in youth ministry, it helps to truly love the people with whom you work. The love of God in Christ Jesus is what we want young people to learn. You can help them learn it through your actions toward them. It will be easy to love the eager, supportive youth, and the parents who are behind your work with youth. Loving those who don’t always love you back is a challenge. But love is about more than feelings; love is a commitment. Young people will see your commitment toward them and the work you are doing through your actions. Let them know that you love them because HE first loved us!
2) Make a Commitment of your Time
We elect our president to a four-year term, senators for six, and members of congress for two. They know as they take office that, not only are they signing up for the duties of the office, but they are signing up for a length of time. Barring any unforeseen interruptions, they fulfill their time commitment. Whatever your situation, be it called or contracted, make a mental and spiritual commitment to be in ministry with the young people of your church for a period of time. Want a suggestion? Be with one congregation for a minimum of three years. If you want to make a real impact, make it six years. If you want to really touch lives beyond a generation, stay for ten years.
3) Make Long Term Plans
When it comes to programming activities, think beyond next week or even the next few months. Plan a yearly calendar, and work toward something big and exciting several years in the future. The LCMS National Youth Gathering is a wonderful long-range program activity. There are also many other big events associated with travel destinations or Servant Events.
4) Keep Up with Youth Culture
Youth ministry in 2005 is quite different than it was just a few years ago. Those who serve in youth ministry need to keep up with young people and their trends. The more you understand, the better you can serve. Keep up with culture, but don’t conform to it; seek to understand it, and you will be better equipped to serve young people in these changing times with the unchangeable message of the Gospel.
5) Develop Leaders
You can’t do it alone! You need help, even in the smallest of youth groups. This strategy of leadership development is focused on two areas:
Development of Adult Volunteers: Seek to find adults of various ages and life situations to serve in youth ministry. Empty nesters have time and the experience of raising kids. Young, single people have time and energy. Think also about parents. They have a vested interest in your students beyond anyone else in the congregation, and could be very helpful due to their built-in commitment and relationships.
Development of Youth Leadership: Structure your program in such a way that you can give young people various tasks, everything from the simple (filling the soda machine) to spiritual (planning worship and devotions for the group). As time goes on and as your young people grow in faith, allow them to serve as leaders of younger age youth programs. Train them, invest in them–you won’t be disappointed!
6) Focus on Relationships
While programming is fun and exciting, the establishment of strong, personal relationships can assist in achieving longevity in youth ministry. These relationships start with the leader: build relationships with the youth themselves; show interest in personal concerns and the life each youth lives outside church-related activities. And yet, relationships go beyond just the leader becoming a socially connected person. It is the youth interacting with each other in a relational way. Don’t just go to a play by yourself; take four kids with you. When you attend a ball game, concert, or musical, invite others and go out for ice cream afterwards. And don’t forget the parents! Youth leaders, be they volunteer or professional, will gain tremendous support by building positive relationships with the parents of the young people whom they serve.
7) Ride Out Conflict
Tough times will occur; you can count on it. How will you react? Youth workers don’t need to fear conflict. It’s easy to move on when trouble occurs, but longevity in youth ministry requires patience and love in tough situations. Conflict may signal a time to think about change, but only after considerable prayer. The way you handle conflict is a witness to the young people you serve. Don’t give up too easily. Good things take time, and it takes time to make things good.
8) Celebrate Often
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We have such a joyful message to share in the Gospel, but is it “joy-felt” in your ministry? Take time to celebrate, relax and to enjoy the blessings that ministry with young people can bring. Celebrate meaningful milestones in your program such as the completion of your first year. Also look at the lighter side, celebrate the first retreat that went bad or the first fundraiser that cost more money that it made. Laugh a lot. Laugh with others. Laugh at yourself.
9) Have a Life Outside of Your Work
Eighty-hour workweeks are admirable and dumb. Admirable in terms of one’s dedication to the important task of serving young people in the name of Jesus; dumb in that you will have very little time to yourself. And don’t kid yourself, by saying, “It’s okay, I love giving the time.” The point here is longevity in youth ministry. We all need rest. Check out Genesis 2:3 for a pretty good example. If you are a full-time youth worker, find a group of people that have nothing to do with your youth program and build friendships. There needs to be intentional behavior on your part to do something beyond the important work of youth ministry, because others things are important too. Remember, to have a life!
10) Become “Colorblind”
For longevity to happen in youth ministry, looking for “green grass” on the other side of the fence can be dangerous. If you are always looking for the next job, looking to see what is better elsewhere, longevity will be difficult. Your work is valid right where you are because God put you there. He wants you to work to the best of your ability regardless of circumstances. If He wants you to be in another place doing different work, the Spirit of God will guide you toward that in God’s time. Don’t play the comparison game, because you will never win! Trust that God can use you in the good and the bad times and that in His time He will direct you to new and different work that will bless you. He will also use you as a blessing to others.
There you go: Ten things to think about; ten things to plan for and to incorporate if you want to build a long-term youth ministry in a congregation and be a long-term youth director in your congregation. Will all of these suggestions work for you? Take the time to see if they do!