Rev. Robert Sturdivant

Robert is the Minister of Students at Trinity United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL. Robert has been working with middle school and high school students for over 14 years, 13 of which at Trinity UMC. Robert grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2012 with a degree in Religious Studies and received his Masters in Youth Ministry at Memphis Theological Seminary in conjunction with Center for Youth Ministry Training in 2015. Robert is married to Brittany, who owns Brittany Sturdivant Photography and Studio Bham, and together have a beautiful little girl, Addie Cate, along with the two best dogs, Sadie and Cooper.

Youth ministry often feels like a giant puzzle. A puzzle with no corner pieces, no picture to look at for reference, or any design on it whatsoever. Whether it’s your first day or tenth year in ministry, here are four practical principles for defining the needs of your ministry, and implementing them over the long-haul.

  1. Establish Values. No more than five, no less than 3.**

You might already have ministry values. Great! Review them at the start of each year and semester to make sure they affirm your context. Perhaps you’re inheriting these from the previous youth worker, or yours need to reflect/be the same as the church at-large. No problem. These don’t need to be profound. In some ways, the broader the better to give flexibility for the ever-changing landscape of youth ministry. These values should serve both as guideposts and guardrails for every program, meeting, coffee hang, and kickball game that happens in your ministry. If you’re doing or dreaming up something that does not directly connect with one of these, don’t do it. These values should become part of every conversation when you share about your ministry, and embedded in the shared language of everyone in leadership within the ministry.

  1. Create short and long-term S.M.A.R.T. Goals 

For timesake here, read more on this way of goal setting at S.M.A.R.T. goals are not just a ‘neat’ idea. I believe it is essential to doing tangible work in an intangible job. “Having more kids” in youth ministry is a fun concept, but it isn’t real, and frankly will set you up for failure. As an example then, figure out what that means to you and your ministry and how that can happen so that it is both authentic to students and genuine to your context. 

  1. Create a REAL weekly to-do list

The best and most controversial advice (to the techies of the world) I can give is: Have a paper to-do list. Mine is a digital document that I update at the end of each week, review first thing Monday morning, and print out and have on my desk throughout the week. I do this because there are about 1,000 things that can distract us from our tasks in life, whether it’s emails that pop up or folks that drop by your office. A to-do list stashed on your desktop or on your ‘notes’ app is bound to be forgotten. Put it front and center so that this list can ground you back to what matters most. And to that end, make sure that what’s on your to-do list directly reflects both your values and your S.M.A.R.T. goals. Don’t put things on there just for the sake of highlighting have the list on Monday afternoon and trick yourself into thinking you’ve done a ton on day one. 

  1. Have Accountability. 

Values, goals, and to-do lists are meaningless if you keep them to yourself. Our team uses (which has free ‘up-to-ten’ people for non-profits options). Organizing our goals and lists here allows me to see how I can support each of them and allows me to share my own to-do list with my boss. It streamlines our communications both within our team as well as other ministry teams at our church. Among healthy leadership teams, sharing our work with our supervisor means that they can tell you when you’re taking on too much, find ways to support you and your ministry, and cheerlead you to other leadership in the church. With that, comes the understanding that they can hold you accountable to project deadlines and due dates helping prevent procrastination and burn out. If you don’t feel that you have a supervisor that can do that for you, find an adult volunteer, fellow youth worker, or friend to do this with you. My guess is you’ve helped a student or two find true community before. It’s time to take your advice and do it yourself. 

Final mixed metaphor: Youth ministry might feel like a sprint, but it’s a marathon. Take time for yourself every day, bring others alongside you to support you, and know that you absolutely can do the work.

**SIDE NOTE: In our context, our student ministry’s mission is to ‘reach everyone for Christ, connect with other Christians, to grow in our faith, to serve those in need, and to honor God with our lives.’ This isn’t even ‘our’ mission statement. I inherited it from my predecessor, who snagged it from another youth ministry who adapted it from another youth ministry. Our universal goal as youth workers is for students to know the love of Christ. I’d rather spend my time with students, volunteers and families than re-inventing the wheel and coming up with new phraseology, but that’s probably another article for another time. Bottom line: Do what works best for your ministry context and is supported by your church and leadership, but don’t overthink the ‘perfect values.’ They are the guideposts and guardrails, not your masters thesis.