So you're working in youth ministry now, and you feel unequipped or inadequate? Welcome to the club! Just a few years ago I felt like I had so much to offer, but no idea how to do it! My idea of youth ministry was greatly impacted by the "youth group" I grew up in, which pretty much consisted of me, my best friend Matt, and the kids we filtered in for activities from the youth groups we wished we were part of. Our youth "leaders" were good at a few things: 1. Buying us food. 2. Telling us how immature and irresponsible we were. 3. Reminding us that they were the youth leaders. 4. Creating lame activities like "prim" that was little more than an amish alternative to "prom." 5. Regurgitating the stuff they had heard as teens..."back in my day."
Stepping into my first pastoral position with little more than 5 committed middle schoolers was scary, because I didn't know what to do! Stewarding their lives was of course a heavy weight of responsibility, but balancing that with engaging material and excitement seemed near impossible. But, as I opened the pages of Scripture, God walked me through some tough lessons in youth ministry that made those years some of the most rewarding and educational years to date. Here are a few tips that helped me grow a youth group from 5 to 60 and counting, but more than that - be an effective minister of the gospel.
1. Be Relatable
Paul said he was made all things to all men that he might be all means save some. So from the King James, let's translate this into "youthenese." To the nerd became I as the nerd. To the jock became I as the jock. To the musician became I as the musician...etc.
Stop talking about how youth ministry used to be; because it's not that way anymore. Culture shifts daily which requires study and discernment on your part in order to effectively relate to it. Don't misinterpret that as being "of" the world. But you must be like Jesus, and meet people where they are.
Minecraft parties. I never thought I'd be a gamer...and I'm still not. But I can build redstone railroad with the best of them! Why? Because I could fill a basement with 20 middle schoolers who came to hang with the youth pastor, and inadvertently get some unsolicited counsel, and even hear the gospel. Yes, even my Minecraft world had a church in it!
Football Games. Be there! That's where all the teens hang out...and even better, their parents! The cheer section has the jocks, and they're easy enough to win over. But behind the bleachers, next to the fence is where bands of 8-10 roam the grounds. Engage them! Soon, like me, you'll have 32 kids calling your cell phone from the front gate saying "Pastor, can you come be my chaperone into the game?!" Hook. Line. & Sinker! Guess who they'll tell their parents was at the game and helped them get in?
School Functions. Band Concerts. Plays. Lunch. Each of these are crazy worlds in which various species of teenagers live. Invade these territories and capture the hearts of the citizens. Make time for them. Be at all of them. You'll be amazed....
2. Be Rational
Here's a common situation: Kid gets a bad grade. They tell their parents who immediately freak out and ground them from something. Kid comes to youth pastor seeking comfort. You cannot be the devil's advocate, but you cannot be the freak-out parent either! Listen to what the teen has to say, and point them in the right direction. Many parents lose their teens because they won't LISTEN. If you'll listen, you will win their heart. Every time.
3. Be Real
As a youth pastor, I was a person too. I have a past. God works in my present. I struggle with sin. When I'm real about my journey with Christ, suddenly admitting humanity becomes OK. " If pastor Jon struggles, I can too!" No, you don't need to brag on your sin and bring all your skeletons out in the open. Just be real about what God has and is doing in your life.
4. Be Ready
This could mean so many things! Even after I felt pretty "seasoned" my small group of just high school guys made me realize just how unprepared I was at times! Teens have a way of throwing those awkward questions your way. Be ready. Teens are learning life the hard way many times. This might involve 3AM pick ups, or 5AM phone calls of panic. Be ready. Students are watching you, and processing things inside. At the most random time, they will be prepared to accept Christ and open up their heart to the gospel. Be ready. Expect the unexpected.
5. Be Recruiting