recently, 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
i received this question from a youth worker yesterday:
I am speaking at a youth ministry event on Longevity in Ministry. I would love to hear back from you on what your top 10 secrets of longevity in ministry are?
here’s what i wrote in response:
in no particular order…
1. embrace humility. ask people to hold you accountable to this.
2. have intentional conversations with youth workers who have stayed in one church for 10 years or more. seek their input.
3. make a list of the reasons why longevity is valuable. pull it out and read it from time to time.
4. get over yourself. you are not god’s secret weapon or only option.
5. ruthlessly develop intimacy with jesus. only when you are deeply connected with jesus will you be able to set aside your ego and weather the temptations to move on.
6. remind yourself regularly that your calling does not come from people, but from god.
7. decide how you will measure your success. bad measures of success = a big program, lots of ego strokes, buzz, impressive numbers. good measures of success = the faith of former teenagers when they’re in their 20s or 30s (and only longevity allows you to really see that).
8. consider the cost to your church, the teenagers you serve, your family, and your own soul of constantly looking over the fence for something “better”.
9. eschew power. power corrupts your calling, and falsely inflates your sense of importance.
10. value faithfulness over influence.
oh, and #11: cultivate a life outside of youth ministry
how about an even dozen? #12: be ruthless about establishing and honoring a sustainable rhythm of silence and solitude.
what do you think? what did i miss?
and, which of these is most difficult for you?