One of the reasons that youth ministries struggle so much with leadership and consistency is because so many youth pastors walk away from youth ministry in their early thirties taking years of experience with them. The misconception is that if you are going to be a youth pastor you have to be young but youth ministry is not restricted by age. I have met some fantastic youth pastors in their 40’s and 50’s and some young youth pastors that didn’t have a clue. I place myself in this last category often... having no clue, but extremely thankful for the mentors in my life that do.
If you are just starting out in youth ministry, find a couple of youth pastors that have been serving for years and connect with them. Your drive and willingness to take risks as a young person is an amazing asset to the youth ministry you are working with. The wisdom of veterans will be a great asset and balance to you. I have often called upon my mentors in great times of distress, discouragement, and confusion. I implore each young or old, new and experienced minister of students to seek out mentors and elders for your “corner”. If you have been in youth ministry for a while you should take an inventory of those around you. Are there any people that you have mentored? Are you connected with the next generation of leaders? If not you should reevaluate your core ministry goal. Why are you doing this?
Establish an Identity.
One of the most important, if not the most important thing for a teen and/or young adult is identity. A foundational part of developing a solid and vibrant youth ministry is to create an identity for your youth group. This can be tricky because we have bought into the idea that youth ministry is basically about slick marketing and advertising savvy.
If you hire somebody to design a good logo, or come up with a catchy name you have not developed identity. You have developed a brand.
Branding is good and it can be important, but it’s not the same thing as identity. Kids don’t wear a certain brand because of the name or the logo, they wear it because it means something, and something they can and/or are willing to “identify” with. The brand and logo are secondary to this more important concept: What does your youth ministry “mean”?
Define the ministry not in terms of cool graphics, catchy slogans or nifty logos, but in terms of purpose, value, cultural significance, and community. Is what the name and brand embody big enough? If you boil it all down is their something significant about what your youth ministry is doing other than creating an audience for you to speak to or a large number of teens gathered for bragging rights by you or the congregation you’re a part of?
What difference would it make in his/her life or world if a teen decided to buy into your concept? It’s got to be about more than coming to your church. If Christianity is about going to church it’s not about much.
1 Peter 5: 2-5 (KJV) says; “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (3) neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (4) And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (5) Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
When people say the words “young people” they are really saying “youngpeople.” - One word, as a noun. Try it, out loud say young people the way you would normally say it. Why does this matter? Because when you say “youngpeople” instead of young people, you change the meaning of the words.
Youngpeople are a kind of quazi-human creatures that are outside of the realm of normal expectations. On the one hand we don’t expect a whole lot from them. We’re just glad they come to church and don’t have drugs in their pocket. On the other hand we expect perfection from them. “The ‘youngpeople’ should be the supreme example of what a person should be as a Christian. Their friends and family and the entire world are watching them and may be turned away from God if these “youngpeople” don’t do it exactly right.” I am exaggerating (a little) but you get the point.
Let’s look at the term the way we should, though. They are young, and they are people. I’m not trying to be sarcastic and yes, I know this is a simple concept, but it could change the way you relate to your “youngpeople.”
They are young. This means they aren’t going to have a lot of wisdom because they haven’t lived long enough to develop it. It means they are going to trust freely (for a while) and trust the wrong people and the right people. They are going to be FIERCELY loyal to their ideas, their music, their friends and the other things that make up their identity. They are going to be reckless and impulsive. The reason they are is because they don’t have a lot to lose. All of the investment has been from their parents. That’s not wrong or abnormal, it’s youth. I think maybe God designed them like that so they would be willing to go out and change the world. Do you remember when you thought you could do anything? They are going to be passionate. Your job isn’t to shut this all down and make them like you, they are not miniature adults, they don’t think like you because they don’t have all of the risks you have. Your job is to help them harness all of this energy and power, yes power, and point them in the right direction so they can make a difference in their world. If we preach “change the world” but never direct their paths what have we done... hindered or helped?
They are people. They are going to do amazing things, normal things and incredibly stupid things. They are going to be subject to their emotions, peer pressure (you still are), ups and downs and everything else everybody goes through. Don’t put them in the “youngpeople” category and limit them to that paradigm. They are people, created by God for a purpose with a capacity for greatness, but the propensity for failure. Expect greatness, but don’t expect perfection.