When I began my first youth ministry job (2002-03), I was pretty sure I knew exactly what I was getting myself into – and how well I was going to do as youth minister. It so happens that at the end of that year, I was asked to give a talk to some new youth ministers about what I’d learned. And I realized that I’d learned a lot by making mistakes. I put the following list together then, and I believe it still holds true:
10. Don’t Book the Archbishop for Grey Cup Sunday.
I’m sure some of you are NFL fans. In Canada, we have our own league – the Canadian Football league – which has its own three down version which we’re very proud of. Our third youth Night was a visit from our Archbishop, and it happened to coincide with Grey Cup Sunday (the championship game), in which our local team was playing. (Whoops!) Lesson here: be aware of major events in your parish, schools AND the greater community.
9. Always Include Contact Information on Everything
Ensure that you ALWAYS put the contact information for you & your parish on any and all promotional material that goes out from your youth ministry office. I passed out a hundred flyers at one of my schools early that year and realized it said “come to this amazing event at the Church!” I didn’t put my name or which Church was hosting the event… leaving them no way to know where they should go if they’d been interested in attending.
8. If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Well.
Make sure you’re prepared for events, activities, practices, etc. Teens pick up quickly if you’re intentionally not prepared and relying on your charisma or your gifts. Jesus acted with deliberate care; He didn’t get caught up in trying to do too much, but He made sure what He did was done well.
7. Keep Your Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12).
As a youth minister, Sunday ceased to be a day of rest (running LIFE TEEN meant that Sunday was my busiest day of the week.) I worked a lot more sixteen hour days in that year than I’d care to admit, and I heard a speaker at a youth ministry conference call me on it. If we don’t take a day as our Sabbath, we’re breaking the commandments. You may notice that your parish priest usually takes Monday off – there’s a hint right there. I very quickly realized that I needed to plan a day off into the routine of my week, and to do my best to cling to it as something sacred. Jesus talked about how the Sabbath was made for man… it’s a built in burnout preventer.
6. Stay on the Same Page as Your Pastor.
Your priests can be your best friends… as long as you keep in mind that your ministry is an EXTENSION of theirs. The bishop of whatever diocese you work in has entrusted the parish to your pastor. Your pastor has, in turn, delegated a part of his ministry to you. Ensure you honor that and respect his wishes (even if sometimes you disagree…) as he, not you, will be accountable for the overall parish. You’ll be accountable for how you assisted him in his mission.
5. It’s Not About Me, but Jesus (1 Corinthians 4:1).
I had to stop and ask myself: Is this really MY office, MY youth ministry, and MY teens? NO. I am Christ’s servant first of all, and secondly a steward of the Christian faith. A steward is someone who cares for something in the absence of the true King/owner. Don’t let your youth ministry become your kingdom (because it’s not). If Jesus were to show up at your youth group… be willing to hand it over to Him right away, not just trying to get one more word, song, or game in. It sounds funny now, but watch and wait. It’s something I had to really surrender to.
4. Relationships > Events.
Exciting events with large groups are great, but what really makes a difference are the relationships you building with young people. Make time with them a priority; a scheduled part of your work week. Meet them for coffee or ice cream (within reasonable boundaries). Go to sporting events games, plays, and concerts – let them know by the way you spend your time that you care about them.
3. Expect Temptation to Increase.
In that first year, I befriended a group of seminarians who were studying near my parish. One of them shared with me that they had been told to expect sharp increase in temptation following their ordinations. This has been my experience, too. My first year of youth ministry saw resurgence in old temptations as well as some new and unexpected ones – I spent a lot of time going to confession that year.
2. Your Prayer Life is an Absolute Priority.
God isn’t just a boss that you need to check in with. He’s your Savior, your best friend, your all in all. If you’re not relating to God, who do you expect to be leading your teens to? Set the appointment and keep it.
1. Live and Serve with JOY.
I’ve always found that ministry when done well is imbued with a tremendous amount of joy. Think about it… why are so many people drawn to the Pope. It’s the joy the man has. We need to do the same. Our joy will draw others to Christ.