Straight Talk: Your first year in Youth Ministry

Straight Talk is a series designed to highlight some of the most crucial elements of youth ministry that are rarely discussed. While some may not agree with me, I hope that each of you are open to learning about these topics. If you don’t agree…I’m ok with that! Let’s talk!  Youth Ministry is serious business. Frankly, I don’t care whether you are a “lifer” or “stepping stone” kind of man/woman. Your calling is not for me to judge. In life and ministry, we are often judged by what we do. I like to believe that we will be judged more by what we choose not to do. This cannot be more important than in your first year of ministry. If you are entering ministry for the first time or starting a new church, I urge you to stop trying to be the hero. Hear me out… Let’s say that youth pastor “A” starts a ministry. While he was interviewing for the position, he mentally gasped on the tour. During his interview conversations, he began having one with his mind that went like this, “Oh my gosh! Really? They do it that way? They must be kidding themselves. Remember to change that!.” Sound familiar? What happens next? Youth Pastor “A” gets hired and begins his ministry. He remembers these mental conversations and creates his “urgent” to-do list. He begins to change things. After all he says, “I have to make it my own!” Everyone is kind at first and willing to let him proceed. Fast forward a couple months: This youth pastor is frustrated that no one is listening to him. They just don’t trust me enough! I don’t have “buy-in.” Youth Pastor “B” is in the same position. He notices all of the same things that are “wrong” with the ministry. He’s hired and starts his ministry. This is where the paths diverge. Youth Pastor “B” decides to spend his first year building trust with everyone. Not once does he put the ministry down. He never talks to his staff about things that should change. If someone brings it up, he takes notes and tells them that he’ll get back with them later on that. Instead, he views every decision he makes as either building trust or destroying trust. In staff meetings, this guy keeps his mouth shut. He listens. He never speaks badly about the previous guy. After a year, he forms a group to talk about major changes. These volunteers/students cannot wait to be on the team. They love this guy! Youth Pastor “B” is diplomatic and chooses which hills to die on. He isn’t offended every time someone questions him. He doesn’t get paranoid. He leads his group through the changes. Everyone claps, raises the youth pastor up on their shoulders, and gives him three cheers. Imagine that! See the difference? Youth Pastor “A” changes things himself. Youth Pastor “B” leads his group through the changes. I’m not saying that changes won’t happen in the first year, but I’m urging you to prayerful evaluate which changes you make and if they have to be done “at that moment.” Most changes can wait until you’ve built more trust with your group. Calculate your changes. Take aways: 

  1. Realize that you don’t have a right to “make it yours.” The ministry doesn’t belong to you…it belongs to God. Don’t make major changes the first year. Leave the service times the same. Leave ministry names the same. Do it their way. Chances are, the previous youth pastor had a reason for doing something the way he did.
  2. Invite open dialog. Allow people to disagree with you. Don’t blow up. Don’t over react. Be a man or Be a woman. If you can’t take the heat, then please quit and go to full-time counseling. Work out your issues and then come back to the ministry. We don’t need another church hurt by a pastor who has issues. We don’t need another marriage hurt by someone who is insecure.
  3. Only change the “This will KILL the ministry if I don’t stop it now” type of stuff. What do I mean by major? I mean MAJOR things.
When all is said and done, you’ll thank me! If you’re already in ministry and are navigating through poor decisions then apologize to your staff for moving so quickly. Build trust. Build trust. Build trust.
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27 Comments

  1. One piece of advice I got during seminary for the first year of a new ministry is this: find one thing that frustrates people about the ministry and change it right away. It shouldn't be anything big or important, but something that people will appreciate. Then leave the rest of the changes until after you've achieved buy in from your students and volunteers, however long that takes. They'll appreciate some tangible improvement and hopefully won't feel threatened as trust is built before any big changes are made.
  2. One piece of advice I got during seminary for the first year of a new ministry is this: find one thing that frustrates people about the ministry and change it right away. It shouldn't be anything big or important, but something that people will appreciate. Then leave the rest of the changes until after you've achieved buy in from your students and volunteers, however long that takes. They'll appreciate some tangible improvement and hopefully won't feel threatened as trust is built before any big changes are made.
  3. One piece of advice I got during seminary for the first year of a new ministry is this: find one thing that frustrates people about the ministry and change it right away. It shouldn't be anything big or important, but something that people will appreciate. Then leave the rest of the changes until after you've achieved buy in from your students and volunteers, however long that takes. They'll appreciate some tangible improvement and hopefully won't feel threatened as trust is built before any big changes are made.
    • I think the hardest thing, especially for someone like me, is that we realize that there is a limited amount of time, especially for our seniors. I think I try to make too many changes (big or small) because I was worried my seniors would miss out.
      • The biggest thing you can do for seniors as the new youth worker is express interest in them and spend time with them. Most seniors kind of "check out" if they get a new youth worker. They know they're leaving in a year and don't care as much (generally) about getting to know you or what you do. Make sure you show they you care and spend a lot of time with them, build them up, and help them prepare for life after high school.
  4. Great post, Nick. I remember when I came to Hazelwood, I only changed 1 program in the first year. That was the best accidental wisdom I ever employed:)
    • I think the hardest thing, especially for someone like me, is that we realize that there is a limited amount of time, especially for our seniors. I think I try to make too many changes (big or small) because I was worried my seniors would miss out.
      • The biggest thing you can do for seniors as the new youth worker is express interest in them and spend time with them. Most seniors kind of "check out" if they get a new youth worker. They know they're leaving in a year and don't care as much (generally) about getting to know you or what you do. Make sure you show they you care and spend a lot of time with them, build them up, and help them prepare for life after high school.
  5. This is great stuff, Nick!!! I think we do the church a disservice when we implement "OUR vision" to fit THAT church--I think a year is the perfect amount of time to learn why they do what they do. You're not always going to like everything they do--they may have picked a weird summer camp, or not put enough money into a certain budget, or their volunteers may be cray cray. But try to figure out why it WAS that way...maybe there's some hidden beauty that we don't see :)
  6. This is great stuff, Nick!!! I think we do the church a disservice when we implement "OUR vision" to fit THAT church--I think a year is the perfect amount of time to learn why they do what they do. You're not always going to like everything they do--they may have picked a weird summer camp, or not put enough money into a certain budget, or their volunteers may be cray cray. But try to figure out why it WAS that way...maybe there's some hidden beauty that we don't see :)

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