The first year of ministry is challenging. There, I said it. I’m in my third year of professional ministry, and with all of the ups and downs and constant transition, it is difficult to maintain a steady prayer life, social life, and an overall healthy lifestyle. As a fellow rookie in ministry, I’ve come up with five tips to help you thrive in your first year of ministry.
Five: Find a supportive community
The first year of ministry is a year of questions and of trust. We find ourselves questioning our decisions, our plans, and our place in this ministry. One of the most important pieces to making sure that you thrive in your first year is to find a supportive community.
One way to do this is to make use of online programs like Thrive. Thrive provides support for youth ministers through an online community and online workshops and resources. Another way to reach out is through your Diocese. Many Dioceses have resources for their youth ministers through their offices of youth ministry and faith formation. My diocese assigns a mentor to each new youth minister (shout out Rockville Centre!) and asks him or her to meet on a regular basis. This provides me with a time to ask questions, get advice, and get a healthy dose of encouragement. Because we all know that we need that.
A great way to build community is to reach out to other youth ministers, seasoned or a rookie (like you, dear friend). Whether that’s through the Internet, a cup of coffee, or a yearly retreat, community is essential to the Christian life, and the life of a minister.
Four: Don’t take it personally
In any line of work, you’re going to get complaints or some sort of negativity expressed towards you and your work. And in ministry you may get low turnouts to events that you were so excited about. Sometimes when we enter work in ministry, we assume that everything will be beautiful because we’re working for the Church. A lesson I quickly learned is that precisely because you are working for the Church, things will be that much harder.
Don’t let the complaints or negativity get to you, though. For me, this has been the hardest lesson. Most of these complaints are well intentioned, and are meant to help you grow in your ministry, and sometimes they’re not. It’s important to remember that the negativity that you’re experiencing probably isn’t actually directed at you. So take a deep breath, listen, and learn from the community that you are serving. And of course, pray for them if you’re still feeling attacked.
And if you have a low turn out at an event (or if no one shows up) that’s okay. Minister to those who are there. A great ministry program doesn’t need 50+ kids to be considered successful. It needs you to be an authentic witness to Christ. So don’t take it personally, Jesus had lots of complaints and only twelve followers.
Three: Work on parent involvement
A successful ministry involves the whole family. You can’t isolate a teenager from their family, the domestic church. During my first year of full time ministry, parent involvement was key. I got my parents involved in scheduling, providing snacks, getting other families involved, and brainstorming. They were also vital when it was time for my missionary group to move on. Parents are an invaluable resource to a new youth minister (or teacher, or DRE, or volunteer). Parents know the community, they know their kids, they know what works in a parish (usually), and they want to see you succeed.
Holding parent meetings, sending out monthly or weekly updates, and asking parents to attend or take the lead on events are great ways to start. I’ve found that if you are able to get one parent on board, others will follow. While our ministry is geared towards teens, remember that they are already a part of another community, their family. And believe it or not, their parents love them just as much as you do.
Two: Take time for Sabbath
“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3)
One of the most difficult parts of working for the Church is working on the Sabbath. Most of us who work in ministry are required to attend mass. In my position I attend and help organize the 7pm mass on Sundays. My first few months in a parish position were increasingly hard. It took time for me to realize that my own spiritual life was suffering because I was viewing prayer as work. Through the advice of my spiritual director and my mentor, we decided I needed to attend mass with my fiancé at our home parish and then have some relaxation. I was missing the Sabbath. After making the time for this time of rest, I have seen my spirits lifted greatly. Working on Sunday, while not ideal, is not as bad when you make time the day before to pray, take care of yourself, and rest in Him.
One: Trust that God has his hand in your ministry
The most important tip! God has placed you in this particular ministry for a reason. From the beginning of time, God knew that you would work in this particular community, with these particular teens. He placed you here for a reason. No matter how difficult a transition it has been or how fruitful, we need to remember that God has his hand in this ministry, and that he working. So take heart, dear friends, our God is for us.