by Deech Kirk
As we explored in “Four Requirement for Becoming a Professional Youth Minister,” the word “profession” has two meanings. First, professional means someone who meets the accepted standard for a certain profession. Second, a professional is someone who exhibits a courteous, conscientious, and business-like manner in the workplace. In a young profession like youth ministry where there is no clear process for becoming a professional youth minister, acting like a professional is essential.
Youth ministers seem to come into ministry believing that exceptions should be made for their professionalism because they work with teenagers. Our society and the church have created standards of professionalism and we in the youth ministry world would do well to abide by and participate in them.
Let’s take a look at five professional ministry characteristics that youth ministers need to abide by:
You must give it to receive it. When thinking of respect, I often think of Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men being upset about not being addressed as “Colonel” or “Sir” while at the same time failing to address the judge formally. The judge responds with, “You shall address the witness as ‘Colonel’ or ‘Sir’ and you (Jessup) will address me as ‘Judge’ for I am sure that I have earned it.” Respect is something given and earned. Young youth ministers who come across as “know it alls” or who “question the authority or decisions of other church leaders” are not giving respect and are unlikely to receive it. Who are you to come in and disrespect them? The work they did before you arrived should earn your respect. Just like the judge, they are sure they have earned it. You have much to prove to earn respect from them. Wise youth ministers respect what has gone on before them which earns them the right to be heard. Don’t forget you have to give it to receive it. It is not a right that you get when you are hired.
Professionals take clear communication seriously. What you say, how you say it, and when you say it are all essential components to good communication. You will be strongly judged on your communication. Respond to phone calls and emails within 48 hours and preferably within 24 hours during the work week. If it will take you longer to answer the question than that timeframe, let them know that you are working on a response. Parents and youth need to know what is going on in the ministry (see 5 Tips for Consistent Communication with Parents) and where to find the information they need. Your pastor, other staff, and church members need to be informed about what is happening in the ministry. Your volunteers need to receive the information that they need so they can fulfill their responsibilities.
Additionally, you need to communicate professionally. Your emails, texts, and published information needs to be communicated in a professional manner. Check your grammar and spelling. Use complete sentences. Don’t use slang or “text speak.” A large portion of a professional youth ministers job is communication.
As the youth minister at the church, you have been given responsibility to lead and guide the youth ministry. Professionals take their responsibilities seriously. If it is your job, do it. If you don’t, then expect someone to hold you accountable for it. Take responsibility for your mistakes. Follow through with tasks assigned to you. If you are faithful over a few things, then you will be put in charge of bigger things.
The youth ministry is not the church. You are not the pastor. Therefore, one of your jobs is to make sure that the youth ministry is in alignment with the church’s mission and vision. You are a part of a team of staff and church leaders who implement the church’s mission. Working with the team is a key to staying aligned.
Youth ministers are slobs. I realize I’m generalizing, but youth ministers’ offices are notoriously messy. Our excuse is that we want our offices to be a fun place for teenagers to hang out. Most people would never buy anything from anyone who worked in an office that looked like the average youth minister’s office. Why? Because it’s not professional. You can have a fun office that is an organized one. If you need more than three minutes to clean your office so that you can have a meeting with your pastor or other church leaders, then it is time to think about how you are presenting yourself through your office space.
“Dress for success.” “Dress for how you want to be perceived.” T-shirts and flip flops are for the beach. What does your dress say to others? Can you imagine a lawyer going to court in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops? Your dress matters because it shapes how people view you. They can only see you through their lens and in their professional world your dress is unacceptable; therefore, they will have a hard time accepting you as a professional dressed that way. Is this fair? Doesn’t matter. In our society, perception is reality. In most churches, no one is asking the youth minister to wear a suit to work. Whether you are male or female, there are plenty of ways to dress sharply and still look approachable to teenagers.
You run a business. Yes, your business is unique, but if you want to be viewed as a professional then these societal standards are musts. Following them will open many doors, and not following them will close just as many.
What other professional characteristics would you add to this list?
Still wondering the first steps in how to become a professional youth minister?
At the Center for Youth Ministry Training, those who have been called by God can receive a theological education, practical experience, youth ministry coaching, and the support you need to become a professional youth minister.