I spend a fair amount of time sitting with youth pastors exploring what’s happening in the youth ministry they’re involved in. We often discuss things like recent gatherings, potential resources that could be used, and ways they are connecting with their wider community.
All good things. But… what about the deeper aspects of Youth Ministry? The things that are going to last past the immediate need, cultural fad, and latest and greatest video, resource or event?
I met with youth ministry guru Pete Ward over a coffee a number of years ago and I recall the way he described the numerous youth pastors he has interacted with. He said, “Youth Ministers are incredibly pragmatic.” The ensuing conversation outlined his critique of church culture that overemphasised “results” (largely in the form of attendance) and under-emphasised theological reflection.
What was he saying? I think the essence of his poignant observation is that youth ministries must be far more thoughtful, considered and intentional in their approach, and in particular it is the job of the Youth Pastor to ensure this is happening.
With that in mind, what are the 3 things Youth Pastors ought to be giving attention to?
Youth Ministry Tip #1 = Listening
It’s been said we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening can come in many forms – listening to individuals, groups, parents, God – but in an age intent on scrolling and watching, listening to what is being said, spoken and unspoken, is going to be a skill that is required to navigate the coming years in youth ministry.
To listen well takes attentiveness. Put down the device and listen. You might have a highly articulate group of young people in your youth ministry. If this is the case, ask them to tell you about their concerns, fears, hopes, frustrations, dreams, and ideas. What’s getting their attention? What are they curious about?
If the young people in your youth ministry at present are more reluctant in conversation, consider asking them to share through alternative means like writing, drawing, photography or painting.
Invite them to be heard and seen. Then listen to what they're saying and respond with understanding and direction.
Youth Ministry Tip #2 – Leadership
Bias your time toward identifying, inspiring and equipping leaders. I wonder if your diary reflects this approach to youth ministry? How many hours each week are you actively engaged in identifying, inspiring and equipping leaders? If it’s not more than 30% you have a problem.
Look for situations and opportunities for those who have already been identified as leaders to grow in their character and skills. Involve them in the things you do as a leader: attempting something new, reading books and articles, or by sending them along to conferences and events.
Whatever you do, don’t forget about being on the lookout for potential leaders – those who don’t look and sound like you, younger (and older) people in your church, as well as those who have been overlooked in the past for whatever reason.
Youth Ministry Tip #3 – Parents
Parents: the often forgotten factor in Youth Ministry.
Make sure you are not only communicating with parents what’s happening in your programs and initiatives, but spend time asking parents what it is that they’re concerned about and hope for in regards to their teenager.
Identify what parents have sown into the teenagers in your youth ministry and praise them for it. While you’re at it, maybe you need to take a moment to thank your own parents for the way they have raised you and helped shape who you are.
Additionally, parents can be far more influential with the other parents in your church than you can be. Be on the lookout for the parents who are deeply committed to seeing their teenager grow in their faith through the youth ministry and ask them to support you.