The Evolution of a Youth Minister | Advice from a Youth Ministry Veteran

in Grow on August 17, 2012by Ryan Akers

I’m a weird animal, and I admit it.  I’m 33 years old, have been serving in Youth Ministry since I was about 19, and have been the Youth Minister (Middle School through College Age) at Hazelwood Christian Church for the last 11.5 years.  I know this is weird because of the looks I get at conferences from other Youth Ministers when they ask, “How long have you been there?”
I’ve found that these 11 years have been invaluable to my ministry.  My ministry looks totally different than the day I arrived, and I think it’s WAY BETTER!  My hope today is to share some of the ways my ministry has evolved over the years, and, in turn, to encourage you to consider what may be most effective for YOUR ministry.  So, here’s a few definite differences I see from day 1 to now.


In the beginning, I wanted to be the star of the show.  I wanted every student to like me, to seek me out, to come by my house, to see me, to call me, to literally die without me.  I thought that’s what Youth Ministry was about, and my ministry screamed it.  I grew up, and realized that’s not only unachievable, but also unhealthy.  I recognized that students needed mentors, not more friends.  And I realized that we needed youth leaders who were nothing like me to connect with students who were also nothing like me.  My ministry is much less about me, which leaves a lot more room for Him.  That’s just the way I like it.


When I first started at Hazelwood, every event was hyped as “THE BEST THING EVER.”  I tried with all of my might to make each and every night of youth group better than the last, with more smoke and mirrors than ever before.  What a dizzying and wearisome goal.  Not only was I burnt out with a neglected wife, I was also losing credibility with my students and adults.  Today, I find joy and peace in the simple.  We still do things with excellence, and youth group time is still exciting, but we focus on the Main Thing instead of majoring on the minors.  Paul may have said it best when he told Timothy, “Preach the Word.”  The rest is gravy.


Early on, my ministry was like my golf game – lots of movement, but rarely on target.  I was more interested in the students’ opinions of me and our “program” than I was with being purposeful, strategic, and deliberate.  Now, we work through a strategic, clear vision with a deliberate discipleship strategy.  And we are purposeful at every level, from every event we plan to every lesson that is taught.  How did I ever think we were hitting the mark before this revelation?


When I first started at HCC, I think I was either so arrogant or naive that I assumed everyone either just KNEW what was happening in our ministries or that they would SEEK OUT the information they needed.  I’ve learned that neither of these assumptions are true.  As a matter of fact, it seems no matter how many ways I communicate something, I will still get parents and students who have no clue what is going on.  But I can say communication is much stronger now because we see the value of it.  I communicate better with my youth leaders, with the church staff, and most importantly, with parents.  If our ministry is to students AND parents, how can we not communicate to parents our purpose, vision, goals, lesson plans, and our calendar?  Would you ever send your kids to a school that kept you in the dark and never told you anything?  Then how can we expect parents to treat our ministries differently?


I have always been a pretty focused guy when it comes to ministry, but I have grown in this area immensely.  Initially, I was very concerned with Youth Ministry, and rarely even knew what was happening in other areas of church life.  At the same time, I wanted to please, so I would often acquiesce to other ministry areas at the expense of our Youth Ministry students.  Now, I see how vitally important it is for the church as a WHOLE to succeed and work together.  But I also recognize that I am the only advocate for our ministry.  I have found a balance here that seeks the unity and success of ALL areas of our church’s ministry, but isn’t willing to simply step aside at the expense of our students.  In my “old age,” I have found that I am more willing to stand up for our ministry and speak my mind about the overall ministry of the church.
These are just a few areas where I have evolved in my ministry.  I believe God has used the last 11 years of experience to mold me, shape me, and make me a much better minister for His glory.  I wonder…how is God shaping you?

Nick Farr at 3:15 pm

Seriously great article! I love your comments about students needing mentors not friends.

Nick Farr at 3:15 pm

Seriously great article! I love your comments about students needing mentors not friends.

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Aaron Buer at 7:59 am

Great article. I couldn’t agree with you more on every point. I might add in: “More Invested with Parents.” I’ve been doing student ministry for around a decade as well and when I started out my attitude wasn’t great toward parents: Who needs them! Over the years I’ve realized how influential and indispensable parents really are in student ministry.
Great thoughts. Much appreciated.

J. Matthew Settecase at 10:01 pm

Less egocentric and less flashy. Thanks, I needed that.
Also, I’m curious to know details on what you focus on. I’ve been working on developing learning standards and focusing on theology and apologetics with our students (my background as a Bible teacher coming through). Have you done this at all, or are you mainly teaching from the Bible in an expository way? Or topically?

Keith Parker at 4:38 pm

Great question. We tend to focus on objectives and teach through those. Similar to Andy Stanley’s 7 Checkpoints, we have 8 “key truths” we want students to know when they graduate, so we will use various styles, curriculum, and methods to clearly communicate those truths. Apologetics and theology are huge parts of that. Who is God? What is salvation? The Bible as God’s Authoritative Word…all are key truths we answer.

Brian Seidel at 4:16 pm

Wow Keith, we are a lot alike. I have been at my church 12 years, I have 3 boys, and all these are just as true in my ministry as well. Thanks for sharing!


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