Advice For A New Youth Worker

In my previous post I talked about the advice I had recently given three students who were considering a career in youth ministry. (Check it out and add your advice to the comments too)! Today, I want to focus on the advice I give new youth workers who have been in the trenches for less than two years. There are many things I could cover in this post, but here are the essential things I choose to share. Maybe you could add some more to this list in the comments section?

First, it’s important to realize that youth ministry can be one of the most rewarding and exciting things to do! There are times when I pinch myself because I can’t believe I get paid to invest in students lives. However, having done this for a long time now, I have come to realize that the blessing of youth ministry can quickly feel like a curse if we do not build the right foundations as we start out…

Develop Healthy Spiritual Foundations Now: Starting out in our first ministry is exciting and daunting at the same time. It’s easy to get swept away in the ministry nuts and bolts and find yourself spiritually dry a year into things. Unfortunately, this can become the pattern for the rest of your ministry. Ensure that quiet times and bible study are the foundation to your ministry, not an add-on!

Determine To Be Teachable: I hate to even say this, but I meet so many young youth workers who think they know it all… (I was one of those youth workers a while back too…) A few years at college or a few years as an intern does not mean you have all the answers or have figured how the church needs to change for the better. One of the best qualities of any youth worker is the ability to always remain teachable and realize there is always more to learn. Even after nearly two decades in youth ministry, I realize I still have so much to learn… Unfortunately, I see many young youth workers constantly asserting their new-found knowledge in unhealthy ways in order to gain quick influence in their churches. Unfortunately, much of the time they come across as the arrogant “know it all” and actually don’t gain the influence they were hoping for…

Discover The Art Of Listening: This goes along with being teachable, but is more specific for the church and the students you work with. Every church is different and every youth ministry has its own flavor and feel. It’s imperative that we learn to listen to the people first to understand their heart, their dreams, and their struggles. Too often it’s easy to take our ideas and agendas into a new church without considering whether they will fit within the culture. Listen to the people, pray for a plan, and THEN implement ideas. It is when we LISTEN that we will gain influence in our churches… 

Don’t Be Surprised When You Face Challenges: One of the biggest surprises I see new youth workers facing is just how challenging youth ministry can be. As a student it looked easy, as a volunteer it looked fun and rewarding, but being in charge is not always the case… Working with students and families will always be messy, challenging, and sometimes very frustrating. However, our dependence on God and our hard work partnering with Him will bring great reward too.

Depend On Mentors And Ministry Friends: This is essential! There will be those challenging times when we need the support and encouragement. If you do not have a mentor and do not have a network of ministry friends, it’s going to be harder to do life and ministry alone. I have had a mentor for nearly 10 years now who himself has been in full-time ministry for nearly 30 years. He is not at my church but does understand ministry well. I have shared my most exciting and my most challenging times with him. His outside perspective and his wisdom has been a game changer for me! Make it a priority to surround yourself with a healthy support team!

Don’t Do Lock-Ins! They Might Just Finish You Off! Just kidding… but, I think there are some of you who might agree with this statement!

What would you add to this list? What is essential for a new youth worker to know? What advice would you give? 

Phil <><





7 Responses to Advice For A New Youth Worker

  1. Benjer McVeigh January 25, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Great list. The best advice I received from my college pastor just before I began my first youth ministry position at the age of 23 was to make building a volunteer team a priority. It’s easy as a new youth pastor in a new position to want to spend as much time with the students as possible to build relationships and rapport. But you’ll be far more effective in the long term if you focus more on building a team first, rather than later on scrambling because you don’t have a solid enough leadership team to accomplish what you think God is calling you to do.

  2. Phil Bell January 25, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Benjer, what great advice he gave you! What advice would you give a young youth worker who is trying to build a team, but struggling to gain the respect of older volunteers on his or her team? I see this being an issue for many new and young youth workers…

  3. Benjer McVeigh January 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I was blessed (in a way) in my first position to come into a situation where the volunteer leaders already had a team mentality, and so they didn’t look down on me for my age. I did a lot of things wrong that first year, but one thing I was intentional about was listening to the team that was already in place. We planned as a team once a month in a local coffee shop, and did a lot of dreaming. So, I suppose my advice would be to take the time to listen, and to allow leaders to dream. This will add a lot of credibility as opposed to just saying, “This is what we need to do” and making wholesale changes without much discussion about it.

    In addition (and I didn’t learn this until years later), I would encourage a new youth worker to work with his or her team to put down on paper what the team believes the direction of the ministry should be and what areas should have emphasis for the first year or two they are there. This can really help the “you know, we used to do this great event…” conversations, because you can say, “Well, as a team we discerned that we should focus on three things for the first year, and while you’ve got a great idea, it doesn’t go along with those three things. Let’s look at it in another year or so and see if it fits at that time.”

  4. youthworktalk January 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Benjer, this is brilliant stuff! Thanks for commenting and giving some great wisdom for new youth workers. I love what you said, “I suppose my advice would be to take the time to listen, and to allow leaders to dream. This will add a lot of credibility as opposed to just saying, “This is what we need to do”

    Thanks again!

    Phil <><

  5. Youther January 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    This is my first year as a youth minister. It’s certainly had its ups and downs. There are a couple of things I don’t read about which I think would be helpful and that pertain to my situation:

    1) New youth ministers transitioning from the prior youth ministry in a church to a new one, and feeling the pressure of being compared to the past.
    2) New youth ministers relating to high school youth who often seem to lose interest as a new youth minister enters into the picture.

  6. Phil Bell January 26, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Youther, thanks for your reply.

    I have some thoughts on what you said. Give me a week and I will look to answer those questions in a post. Sound good? In the meantime, feel free to add any more questions and let me see if myself, John, Leneita, or Darren can answer these for you?

  7. Youther January 26, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    I’d appreciate that Phil. Thanks.

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