I helped a teammate lead a group of middle schoolers on a youth retreat in another state a couple years ago. During some of the late night activities, I was looking to see if one of my students was in the ridiculously long laser-tron line when I heard an adult leader from another church start getting on to a student for cutting in line. I continued on my pursuit of my student while listening to her get increasingly frustrated that the student was ignoring her. Eventually, I turned around to discover she was talking to ME.
Fast forward a few years to a meeting with my Senior Pastor and a ministry leader from a local university organization. As the meeting wrapped up, my pastor indicated to the man that I am the one in charge of college ministry and therefore, future conversations would mainly happen through me rather than him, the senior pastor. The young man, surprised, reacted by simply asking, “How old are you, anyway?”
Thankfully, I’ve learned to laugh off being mistaken for a middle school student and my pastor lovingly encouraged me with the words of 1 Timothy 4:12 before I left his office the day of that meeting. However, being a young adult in ministry certainly has its challenges. After talking with some other young church professionals, here are a few of the top challenges we face:
We “don’t know anything”.
“What can a twenty-something single tell me about parenting a teenager?” Whether it’s talking with a parent about their teenager or trying to give input at a meeting of church leadership, many young adult church workers experience this idea of being “less than” simply because we are younger and therefore seen as not having enough experience. It takes time and a lot of effort to earn the trust of older congregation members and/or staff.
Three years after being at my current call, I had a ministry leader approach me to share that for the whole time I had been there, she never really valued anything I had to say nor believed I should have been hired. She then apologized for acting that way the past few years, saying that her opinion was primarily based upon my age. She continued by saying that she could now see the gifts and experiences I brought to the team and was thankful for them. Just because we may be young does not mean that we are not equipped or capable of doing our jobs, but it seems that way to many.
We’re expected to know “everything.”
No, really?!? How CAN I encourage parents of teenagers when I’m barely out of teenage years myself? While some people do think we don’t know anything, the reality is that we still have a lot to learn and we haven’t experienced everything in life yet. I have a lot of training and experience with kids and teenagers, but, I’ve never been a parent. However, much of our jobs are to equip and strengthen moms and dads as they parent their kids and help them grow in their faith. This messy paradox is often intimidating and overwhelming.
We want a life outside of work.
I absolutely LOVE leading the young adult ministry, yet it is also the source of many challenges in ministry and life. How do you build a friend group, when most of your interactions with people your age are also connected in some way with your job? Boundaries can also be an issue. When a young adult I know is struggling with something, I often have trouble figuring out which hat to wear as I help them: “friend” or “DCE”. Even if you’re not responsible for young adult ministry, most Christian young people who move to a new area for work likely find their friends at the church. What do you do when church and work are the same place?
We’re still figuring out who we are.
The reality is that as twenty-somethings, we’re still figuring out key aspects of who we are. All humans come out of childhood carrying some “junk.” Sorting through that while trying to be a confident, effective ministry leader can be pretty confusing at times. Some of the other challenges above can introduce huge pressure to live up to a standard and “prove yourself” within the church. Trying to “prove yourself” while still figuring out the person God has made and called you to be isn’t the best combination for a healthy life and ministry.
So, What’s a Young Adult to Do?
Run to God’s Word!
First of all, young adults, remind yourself frequently of passages that speak to the challenges you face. For example, the one my Pastor shared with me a few months ago: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Let God’s Word lead, guide, and comfort you rather than the challenges you may face or the expectations of others.
Older church workers and members, WE NEED YOU! Walk with us. Encourage us. Challenge us. Help us grow in the areas where we really don’t have experience and call out the gifts you see in us. Also, if I may be so bold to say this, YOU need us as well! We bring different perspectives and ideas. Let’s work together in God’s Kingdom!
Be patient and humble.
Go the extra mile even when it seems ridiculous. Dress professionally. Be early. Wait three years if you have to. Do what it takes to earn trust. No, it’s not always fair, but sometimes it’s what we have to do. Also, don’t just ignore people in your congregation who may not value your input; get to know them and listen to them. Be confident in your skills, yet humble. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).
Remember your calling!
Whether you’re officially called by a congregation or roped in as a lay volunteer, God has called you to serve His people in a specific place at a specific time. Cling to that calling and, more importantly, the One who called you. As God told Jeremiah: “Do not say to me, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak” (1:7). Run after God. Trust Him and let him worry about all the details!
(Oh, and don’t forget the benefits of being a young adult church worker, too…college life prepares you well for staying up all night at lock-ins and eating pizza for a week on a mission trip!)