7 Lessons from 7 Years in Youth Ministry

On July 31, 2011 I celebrated my 7th full year of youth ministry at Main Street in Springfield, Tennessee.  Seven quick lessons about my/our journey:

  1. Learn to say “no” - All ministers struggle with this as we want to do so much for people in the name of God.  We take on projects, speaking engagements, weddings, committees,  meetings, and a host of other things while our spiritual formation, family and our personal lives turn to shamble.  I read somewhere that every time you say “yes” to something you are always saying “no” to something else.
  2. Try to look for the big picture - A lot can happen in a youth ministry in a short time but also nothing can happen for a long time.  There are different seasons in youth ministry so staying focused and having an idea of what the big picture is will keep you from being distracted by a lot of the little things.
  3. Don’t get too full of yourself – I have blogged about this several times but no matter how great the youth minister is there is going to be something he is not good at and that is going to be painfully obvious to you and everyone else.  Learn to laugh at yourself and do it often letting others in on your laughter.  Have a ton of fun.  Go to Waffle House at 3am.  Laugh when one of your youth group guys goes through a wall at a hotel.  Laugh when a youth group girl passes gas on the bus and blames it on you as everyone writhes in agony at the smell.  Laugh when a youth group guy pronounces from the pulpit the word “Yahweh” as “Yah-hee” and instead of “wiles of the devil” he says, “willies of the devil.”  Learn to laugh and laugh often.
  4. Delegate and Empower – I am horrible at this.  I would rather do things on my own and wear myself out than asking someone to help.  The result…it almost burned me out of ministry completely.  Have a team of people who are your core leaders in the youth ministry who could lead the activities if you were gone.  Speaking of being gone…
  5. Try a slice of humility - This goes along with number three above but we need more humble servants who are John 13 ministers.  In youth ministry we get stepped on (clean the bus, babysit my kids, do the impossible), we get made fun of (second class ministers), we have impossible expectations placed on us by men who have not the slightest clue about youth ministry or teenagers for that matter, we are underpaid, we are overworked, we are extremely talented (cleaning the bus, writing the bulletin, etc.) and we are criticized by 40-60 people who “know” more about youth ministry than we do.  All of that happens to most youth ministers and all I can think about is this verse from Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  Some criticism needs to be addressed some people just need to be talked to in a reproved manner but sometimes we need to realize that we are simply humble agents of Christ suffering affliction to do something we love to do.
  6. Invest in people, not programs – It’s not uncommon for me to change programs in our ministry and I am currently in the process of completely revamping the youth group. One thing that I have not changed is getting to know people, investing in their lives and letting them know how much I love them.  I tell youth group kids that “I love them.”  Some of them are a little creeped-out about it but some of them respond with tears as if they have never heard someone tell them those three words and mean it.  I love them.  I love the parents and I let them know that I am here to come alongside of them.  This is important for when that youth group person is struggling with a situation at college or they have made by decisions in their life they come to me without reservation because they know, if anything else, I will at the very minimum love them.
  7. Don’t lose your soul – Youth ministry is tough.  It has been the most difficult seven years of my life.  I have watched people leave the church and never come back.  I have watched friends lose friends.  I have watched families become broken.  I have watched people who I thought would be soldiers of Christ become servants of idols.  But..I have watched visitors get baptized.  I have watched total reconstruction of lives based on Scripture.  I have watched youth group people find jobs based on their calling and I have seen many good things done in the name of Kingdom.  Friends, don’t lose your soul.  Keep your eyes focused, hang in there and love as you too have been loved.

Thank you Main Street for putting up with me and teaching me about ministry.  I dedicate this blog to seven sets of people in ascending order of importance:

  • Elders – thank you for sticking with me and for supporting me spiritually, mentally, and fiscally.  You have given me raises, bonuses, a van, health coverage, freedom to make good and bad decisions but most of all your encouragment.  Thank you.
  • Parents and Friends – I love all of you.  I know I am not perfect and I know I have done things wrong from time-to-time but you have supported me.  I love you all.
  • Joe and Linda – you are my “daily bread” when a minister does not want to go to the office you make it enjoyable.  Thanks for being a great team.
  • Youth Group Members Past and Present – Words cannot describe how thankful I am for you.  You have made the journey worth it.  Thanks for taking Jesus seriously and for doing radical things.  I love you all more than you know.
  • Kaleb, Amelia, Madelyn and Samuel – Kids you make me so proud.  You are my most important youth group and I want to thank you for making daddy laugh on those tough days and for keeping me going when I didn’t want to go anymore.  I love you so much and as long as I have air to breathe I will serve you with a passion unrivaled in this world.
  • Heather – What can I say?  You are perfect in every way.  Not only am I married to a hot wife but you are also so intelligent and understanding.  Your care for me exceeds the proverb wife in Proverbs 31.  You are a servant and the fuel to my fire.  I love you.
  • God – You have allowed a wretched, hypocritical, inconsistent, unorganized, lazy and unlovable person like me to be called a follower of Christ.  Thank you for your grace, for your daily assurance, for your providence, for your discipline, for your correction. for your providence and for your glorious return.  I love you!
  • Anonymous

    Well said!!!

    • Robbie Mackenzie

      Thank you so much.