It’s amazing how quickly six months can go by, yet also how much has been packed into those six months. As I reflect back on the first half of my internship, here are six key learnings that come to my mind:
1.The importance of names: Remembering people’s names is absolutely key to doing ministry. Unfortunately, remembering names after hearing them once isn’t one of my gifts. The learning experience comes into play when trying to figure out ways to get those names stored in the long-term memory. For example, while on the NYG, I had all of the youth put my phone number into their phones and then had them text me their name, a picture of themselves (to help me get names and faces put together) and a question they had for me (a great suggestion from my pastor). For those moments when you can’t remember their name (and I have many of those), be humble and just apologize and ask the other person their name again until it sticks. I’m learning that this is much better than pretending you know it and having to deal with that lie months down the road.
2.You can’t reach everybody: This statement was one I heard a lot in school, but it never really hit home until I was out in the parish. As a youth worker, you cannot reach everybody with every event or at every event. As hard as I try, at the majority of my events, I am not able to get a good, personal contact with each youth who is there. Nor do I reach every kid with every program that we do. That’s why having a team of other leaders is important. It’s a lot easier to reach each youth at an event when there are four leaders connecting with the youth rather than just me. Plus, some of the kids may connect better with one of my leaders than they do with me. It’s a work in progress getting such a team together, but it’s definitely worth it because it communicates to the kids that the church cares for them, not just the youth worker.
3.Find ways to stay connected during the week: It’s really hard to build relationships with people you only see a couple times a month in a group-style event. Without delving into the obvious benefits of small groups and home Bible studies, one of the easiest ways to continue to build relationships with the youth is through prayer. This is something I am working to getting better at, but texting kids individually and asking them how you can pray for them really does go a long way with many of the kids (not all, but many- see #2 above for explanation). Something so simple is really making a difference throughout the week.
4.Communication is key: This is especially true regarding parents and the congregation as a whole. Even though many of them may never attend a youth event, they genuinely want to know what’s going on and how they can support you. The basic line of communication that I’ve seen as beneficial is talking with the rest of the staff about what they’ve done in the past and sharing ideas, sharing the final plan with them, communicating what’s going on early enough for the parents to get it on their calendars, telling the plan to the youth and giving them a handout that they (in theory) can give to their parents, announcing it to the congregation and highlighting why we’re doing the event, and then sharing how it went after the event took place.
5.Difference between theory and practice: In college, I learned a ton of theories and ideas for how to do ministry. But coming into a church with a preconceived idea of how the ministry is going to look based on those theories can be dangerous. I had to take some of those ideas and get rid of them all together based on the culture of our church. Others were put into the “down the road” folder and can be added as the program grows. There were even some that were implemented right away. But the key is that all of the theory needs to be applied in the context of the church you are serving. Not all great ideas or programs that work in theory work practically at all churches, and that’s okay. The key is to spend time getting to know the history of the church and the people and then working to fit their actual needs rather than using the “latest greatest” ideas simply due to the fact that it’s something new.
6.Continue to grow: This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned, and it’s something I learned very quickly as an intern. I am just an intern. I am still learning and growing and figuring out what I’m doing. It’s really easy to see that even when I think I have things figured out (in theory at least, see above) there’s still so much to learn. I pray that I continue to realize this as I get older in the ministry. The biggest growth opportunity though is spiritually. I need to continue to strive to grow in my relationship with Jesus each and every day and not let “ministry” take the place of that. It’s a constant battle, but I’m beginning to see the value of “preaching to yourself” in messages or Bible studies. Jesus says, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and that call did not stop when I became a professional church worker. He wants to continue to make me into His disciple, even as I try to teach that same truth to others. Praise be to the God who is faithful to me, even when so often I am not faithful to Him. It really is a miracle how He can work through sinners like you and me to spread His Gospel message. What a great God we have!