Thursday, November 12, 2015

To Youth Ministers

I have been around various forms of youth ministry throughout the course of my seventeen-and-a-half years of life.

Being the daughter of two youth ministers, I spent my childhood immensely looking forward to being part of a youth ministry program. I saw the joy of people passionately pursuing Jesus and leading others to Him. Even as young as three, that was so attractive to me. I assumed that I would be a part of a youth ministry program as wonderful as the one my parents lead when I reached high school.

Unfortunately, my experience with youth ministry over the years has been frustrating and the source of much heartache. I've been let down by multiple Cristian adults...and it hurts. I'm not going to lie, I'm angry about it. Even though some of these situations happened years ago, I'm angry. I've forgiven those involved...but I still recognize that the things that happened were wrong.

So please, all of you who work with kids in the Church, learn from these mistakes of others.

My absolute favorite line that I've gotten from youth ministers (and I've gotten it from at least four) is the ol' "Well, you're way ahead of them all."  This statement has been said in response to suggestions given by myself or others. Usually, this line is in response to requests for greater depth in something or an expression of frustration at the lack of leadership.

When I've received that line, I've felt put in a box. It's like I'm different from everyone else, and almost ostracized. Growing deeper is up to me and the youth minister is not going to help me. Also, I think it puts the "them" in a box which prohibits their own growth. To me, that line is a cop out from putting more work into something.

Every single person alive longs for greater depth spiritually, regardless of whether or not they realize it. Our hearts were made for relationship with Jesus. Obviously, the leadership which leads to the relationship can take many different forms. So don't tell me that I'm the only one who wants that.

Please realize that you are never going to please everybody, so stop trying. You're not going to please every priest, every kid, every parent, every member of the church. So just strive to please one-- Jesus. Don't compromise Church teachings just because you don't want to offend somebody. Take a stand. Stand up for Jesus. And also, please do not give your opinions if  they are contrary to Church teaching. The church has been around for two-thousand years. She knows more than you.

It's not about you and your ministry. It's about leading people to relationship with Jesus. That's all that matters. I don't understand why, under this premise, so many youth ministers are unable to work together. Why do so many schedule their events on the same night, seemingly intentionally? I get really frustrated when I (and others) get crap about going to a different church's events. Youth groups are not sports teams competing for coolness or attendance. There was a youth minister I knew once who wouldn't even talk to a girl after she skipped a week of our church's youth group to go to another church. Well, that's mature!

Please do not mimic your kids when they offer suggestions or voice concerns. Often, it takes a lot of courage for a kid to speak up to an adult. Regardless of whether or not you agree with what is being suggested, please be respectful and listen.

Don't talk about kids to other kids. Youth ministry is a hard balance between relating to the kids while still maintaining a leadership persona. But please, please, please set an example and don't gossip. As one who has been gossiped to and gossiped about by a variety of youth ministers, it's not cool. If you're frustrated, talk to another youth minister or confront the kid yourself. If you're gossiping as the youth minister, how are you supposed to teach your kids not to gossip? Also, it puts the kid being gossiped to in a very uncomfortable position. And if you're being gossiped's heartbreaking.

How much do you know about the personal lives of your kids? I'm talking beyond sports and clubs How much do you know about their wants and dreams, their fears, their hurts? Are your kids comfortable sharing with you? Another hard balance of youth ministry is that of having a fun side as well as a deep side. Are your kids able to get real with you?

It's not about numbers...for the sake of numbers. But each number represents a soul. Your responsibility is to lead these souls to heaven. Do you realize how much power you have?! You have so many souls literally in your hands, and you have the truth that they long for! Are you doing everything in your power to reach as many as you possibly can?

Please be prepared for your events. Please don't fill youth events with a bunch of games because you think we can't handle depth. We crave depth because we our culture has starved us of it. Additionally, for goodness's sakes, write you talk ahead of time.

If you're going to enlist others to be on a leadership team (especially other teens), please train them. Meet with them, talk and pray with them, build relationship. Don't just throw them to the wolves.

If you're not going to pray openly with your team and kids, then you're not going to go anywhere. If you're not pursuing a relationship with Jesus to the best of your ability, then you're not going to be anything but noise.

Be real. Be fun. Be deep. Don't be afraid to give yourself wholly and completely, like Jesus does continuously for us. Youth ministry is so much more than a's a way of life.

I have been let down often in my life and this is partly my fault. But the worst, most heartbreaking let downs have come from youth ministers. When leaders don't lead, especially in the church, I get so upset. Wen I am told how I am "too far ahead of everybody", it hurts. I want to be fed, to be led closer to Jesus. I have problems just like everyone else. When I see youth ministers wo are so obsessed with "success" that they miss the souls in front of them, it hurts.

The most important thing you could ever do is love and lead a soul to Christ.

I'm praying for you! I know that youth ministry (and every kind of ministry) is difficult. But what God has called you to, He'll provide the grace sufficient for. Remember, more than anything, the sacrifice that Jesus has made for you and the love that He pours out continually on you. Cling to that, and let Him be your strength.

To all the kids who have been hurt by youth ministers...youth ministers are just people. People are human, and we fail. I know kids who have left the Church because of being let down by the leadership. Always remember, our Church is founded on Christ. He is our hope. Our Church is run by humans, which means we will fail. But the Church never will.

I'm praying for you.


  1. I was never involved in any church youth programs when I was young nor have I had any involvement as an adult, but I know how vital these programs are to young people. A bad experience can drive a young person away from church life so it is important to be sensitive to needs.

    You offer good suggestions for maintaining a successful program for youth.

    Arlee Bird
    Wrote By Rote