What I’ve learned in 16 years of Youth Ministry

I’ve been in youth ministry at the same church for 16 years. I’ve been here through all kinds of changes and seasons and I’ve made my share of mistakes, but here’s some key things I’ve learned along the way:

Relationships are vital! Of course we all know this, but I’ve learned that if we really value this, we need to be VERY intentional to build and grow the following relationships:

  • Parents: They want to learn. They need our support. It’s vital to build their trust in you. Communicate well with them.
  • Adult leaders: Build into them. Love them deeply. Spoil them. (I invite ours to my house a few times a year and cook a gourmet meal.) Train them. Hold them to a high standard. Know their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Other Youth Directors: It’s VITAL to have a network of others who love teens and love God. We do WAY more together than we can do alone. We lean on each other for support and help. We’re constantly reminded that the Kingdom is WAY more important than being a lone-ranger church.
  • A local Christian counselor: This is one of the most important relationships I’ve ever developed! I learn from her, I call her when I need advice, and I refer youth to her when I need to. This trusted relationship is INVALUABLE.

Have the long-term in mind! I’ve learned to remember that we are developing people for the LONG TERM, not just for now. Long-term teaching takes more intentionality and thought. It’s OK to discipline and give boundaries, and to lovingly tell them the truth, even if they get mad at us. They need that. They need a safe place to fail and make mistakes, too. We are teaching them to know and love Jesus while developing into healthy, quality people. Sometimes it’s messy, and that’s OK.

Develop Healthy Community! Youth need a community where they feel valued, where they are safe, and where they can be themselves. It’s essential that we provide that. We have a rule– no youth or leader can put someone (or themselves) down. If they do it’s 3 “put ups” immediately about their character (“You’re creative”) not surface stuff (“I like your hair.”). We teach and practice writing affirmations during retreats/trips. We regularly affirm youth in front of their parents. The results are clear and consistent. Youth tell us church is a place where they “relax and can be myself,” where they feel safe to bring their burdens, and where they know when they walk in the door they’ll be greeted with genuine love by their peers and adults!

Live What We Teach! We’re ALWAYS teaching by what we say, how we treat people, how we handle stress, how we treat our spouses, if we take Sabbath, ALWAYS!

Be a Life-Long Learner! We need to be a learner of culture, youth ministry, of our youth, of teens in general, of ourselves, and most importantly of God and His Word. Never stop learning and growing!!

3 Responses to “What I’ve learned in 16 years of Youth Ministry”

  1. Aaron Thompson March 21, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    I especially connect with the top two – relationships and long-term.  I’ve found that nailing those things goes a long way in building a healthy ministry.

  2. Bruce Johnson March 21, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Another remarkable result of Eric’s intentional relationship-building is clear in how quickly the youth are transformed into leaders.  From devotions to worship music to mission projects to small groups or by simply developing relationships with younger students, many of our youth quickly develop the skills and confidence to shine God’s light in their own way(s).  It is inspiring to be part of this ministry!!  

  3. Mike & Ada March 21, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    true dat!  nicely put Mr. Blake :)

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