by Mark Taylor
This past fall, my position in youth ministry was cut from my church. It marked a time of transition and uncertainty. I had been a paid youth minister for the past seven years and received an MA with an emphasis in youth ministry. This had been my life. It consumed my time, my schedule, and my thoughts.While my new job still involves youth ministry, it feels odd not planning a youth lesson or greeting students on a Wednesday night. In addition to my weekly schedule changing immensely, my wife and I also began to care for a young man this past year. My step-daughter is grown, so the addition of a teen youth is quite the change for us.
So now I find myself not only on the outside of youth ministry looking in, but I also have a teen in the youth ministry at the church across the street.
Let me share some insights from the outside.
I’ll address this one first because I never did a good job of communicating well. I viewed it as a hassle. Communication matters. You can be a good youth minister, you can be a lousy youth minister, but regardless of your skills or credentials, you will be largely judged by parents based on your communication. I understand the frustrations of communicating schedules and lesson themes in hundreds of different mediums, but it’s the main way parents stay connected. The students might talk to the parents, but it’s usually a very abbreviated and often skewed version of what’s going on. I appreciate the communication of the youth minister across the street and his willingness to answer a text or phone call.
Caring Goes A Long Way
When I left my ministry this past fall, I received letters from parents and students. The one letter that stuck out to me above all the others came from three seventh grade girls. It said, “You didn’t always understand us, but you always tried, and that meant a lot.” Students will forget lesson points, they won’t always walk the straight and narrow, and sometimes our words won’t get through to them, but they will always remember how we cared about them. Malik talks about Pastor Greg all the time. He talks about him because he knows he cares. And if you can at the very least associate a student to God’s love by caring, that’s a huge accomplishment.
Sometimes Weekly Attendance Just Isn’t Going To Happen
This one’s tough for me. I grew up going to church every Sunday. It’s what we did. Then, as a paid youth minister, my job required me to be at church programming multiple times a week. My expectations, stated and unstated, were that my core students would be in Sunday School and programming every week. But they weren’t. I would be frustrated with parents for not setting a good enough example, and I would be frustrated with students for not making church a priority. If I could be at everything, why can’t you? Now that I’m not paid church staff, I have missed a couple of Sundays for various reasons. I still believe that fellowship with other Believers is massively important, but sometimes life happens. I still love Jesus. I still read my Bible. I still talk to God on a constant basis. But I’m not always at church. Malik sometimes spends weekends with his mom, so he’s not in youth group on Sundays. Let your students know that you missed seeing them, but lay off the guilt trips. Allow your students and their families to be human.
Youth Ministry Has To Involve The Parents
Malik loves youth group. He loves Pastor Greg. But at the end of the day, the majority of his time is spent at school and at home. The amount of interaction I have with Malik on a weekly basis is far beyond that of the youth pastor—and that’s not because Pastor Greg isn’t active. It’s the nature of the Christian experience.Equip parents. Pour into parents. Make connections with parents. Let them know what you’re discussing in youth group and find out what they’re talking about at home. Be their biggest advocate and give them the tools and skills to raise their students up in Christ.
The other thing I’ve noticed is how invaluable a youth ministry is to keeping parents involved. My wife and I don’t really care for the services at the church. I love our small group on Sunday mornings, but it will be very difficult to change churches if we decide to do so because of Malik’s involvement with the youth group. Since I’m not in church staff meetings on a weekly basis, I’m not nearly as informed as I had been on ministries in the church, but Malik help keeps us up to date. I’m so grateful for the people who have surrounded him in the church.
You’re saturated in church life. Some of you are paid to be saturated in church life. Begin to step out of your own shoes and into the shoes of your students’ families. I think you’ll gain some valuable insights.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
1. Do my parents feel like I’m communicating well with them? What about those I don’t see on a regular basis?
2. Do I view communication as a hassle or as the means to deep relationships with my students’ families?3. Do my students know I care for them? Do I say it? Do I show it?
4. At the end of the day, even if my students didn’t pay attention to a lesson, am I showing them the love of Christ in my words and my actions?
5. Am I pestering my students about their attendance? Do I think poorly of families who are gone multiple weeks?
6. Does my weekly planning need to change if I know students aren’t going to be there every week?
7. Do I view myself as the primary spiritual provider for my students? How is that healthy? How is it problematic?
8. What am I doing to equip my parents in the spiritual formation of their students?