how to become a veteran youth worker

old markorecently, a youth worker messaged me, asking for insight in how to last in youth ministry. i think the actual question was, “how does one survive in youth ministry and become a veteran youth worker?”

my response. your thoughts? additions?

After 33 years in youth ministry, there are a few things i’m seeing about survival and thriving as a veteran:

  1. My passion and calling hasn’t changed, but my role and relationships have to grow and change with age. As a young youth worker, I was in an “older brother” relationship with teenagers. In my 30s, my relationship with them was like that of an uncle. These days, I really am a sort of surrogate parent. I need to exercise wisdom about how to maximize the opportunities that provides and be cautious of the limitations. Nothing is more lame than a 50 year-old youth worker trying to pretend that he’s 23 years old.
  2. I have also needed to see my vision and role shift in relationship to other workers. As I got more experience (and years!), I find that some of my best ministry is equipping and empowering younger youth workers. Veteran youth workers often move into a role of multiplication, seeing my ministry calling mostly lived out through youth ministry volunteers who are half my age. I don’t want to lose touch with actual teenagers, so I stay in relationship with teens also; but my greatest impact is through others.
  3. I’ve had to learn to say “no.” At my age, there are simply aspects of youth ministry that I am not best equipped for, or not interested in doing.
  4. Finally–and this is true for youth workers of all ages, but no one will become a veteran youth worker without learning this–I have to realize that being in youth ministry does not mean that my soul will be taken care of. If i’m not intentional about continued spiritual growth in my life, I’ll either burn out or have nothing meaningful and authentic to offer.

7 thoughts on “how to become a veteran youth worker”

  1. I love the implicit opportunity in this post – for those communities who have veteran youth workers… to invest, nurture and hold on to the changing scope but multiplied blessings of having veterans in your team.. rather than trading them out for the idol of ‘relevance’.. as some are prone to do. Age does not equal relevance, and experience is a gift. This is such a good post.

  2. Great post!
    One thought I would like to share:
    – a supportive spouse and family is crucial.

  3. Thanks, Marko. As a 35 year veteran still on the “frontlines” in the local church I totally affirm everything you have said!

  4. all four of those are great!

    Patrick added a good one too…supportive spouse and family (flipside matters as well – support and minister to your spouse and family, don’t forget them)

    I’ll probably think of a lot more throughout the day but here’s one:

    love your church and ministry team (Senior Pastor, other paid staff) and want their success/best as much as you want your own and definitely do your best not to undermine or compete against them…weekly church staff meeting is a blessing not a curse, get permission don’t exhaust forgiveness, let them know when you fail so they aren’t surprised when someone contacts them, get to know them pray for them and pray with them, etc.

  5. Amen! Just a thought about number 3 that I’ve learned over the years- the things that we say “no” to, there ARE other people out there who can/will do them instead if we give them the chance. Sometimes when we stop trying to do things we don’t want to do, we get out of the way for people who do want to do them, and create leaders. And hey, that’s ministry!

  6. Learn to be flexible. Pick your battles carefully. Never issue ultimatums. Get along with the church leadership or move on. Realize that you only build relationships and respect with longevity. Work on handling every interaction with grace. Be much mire concerned with being kind than being right.

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