It’s always good to get wisdom and advice from the older and wiser ones, especially when it pertains to a role we are currently serving. Local church student ministry is not for the faint in heart. In one sense, every Christian is a youth worker, modeling for the next generation what it means to walk in faith. In another sense, leading the charge to actively engage with, serve and lead teenagers requires some level of calling, courage and energy. It’s good to remember someone has walked in our shoes before us, someone has experienced what we are experiencing and that we are not alone.
Here are five practical things older youth workers can teach younger youth workers about student ministry:
We’re Their Leaders, Not Buddies
Youth workers must enjoy being around teenagers, but they can’t become teenagers. Veteran youth workers understand the balance of loving students as adults – keeping the boundaries clear. The more we act the part of the leader, the more confidence we have to lead and give direction in their lives. Ironically, the more we lead – lovingly – the more influence we have with them. Students don’t typically rebel against authority, they rebel against lack of relationship. We want to know students, talk with students, connect with students, but we stay away from joining in gossip, trying to act like teens or getting in the middle of relationship drama. The older you get, the more effective you will become at being leaders for students. Don’t worry about being cool. Be focused on leading this ministry and the students you have now.
Listening Trumps Talking
Every conversation counts. It’s better to be interested than interesting. Students need caring adults who will listen to them. This is why it’s so important to have other leaders around you working to build community and connection with students. One of the best bridges into the life of a student is being interested in them – for who they are. Ask questions. Enjoy conversations and activities. Take time to look them in the eye and let them know they matter. Kids may not open up all the time, but they want to. We have an incredible opportunity to speak into their lives, but it begins with building a connection by listening. We may learn as much from them as they may learn from us.
There Are Seasons For Everything
Some years there will be more students than other years. Some weekends there will be more in attendance than other weekends. Some trips work well, others flop. Sometimes volunteers are humming with energy and creativity, other years, you’re rebuilding and looking for a team. There are always ups and downs in ministry. And you are always in a season. It’s good, if you are able, to pinpoint the season you are in. Are you in a season of growth? A season of rebuilding? A season of transition? A season of leadership development? A season of outreach? A season of change? Culture changes fast – and so do students. You can’t blame all your troubles on the season you’re in, but it’s good to recognize where you are and what you are heading toward. Ride the waves. Be comfortable with the ebb and flow. Discover the vision and keep moving forward, as long are you are able to serve, in your ministry to students. Take what comes season by season. You’ll continue to learn and grow.
Parents And The Home Are Allies
If we’re lucky, we may be personally connected to students for a couple hours a week and/or a special event a couple times per year. This leave 166 hours for other things in the lives of students each week. If we are going to have influence, we must be connected in some way to the families and the homes. That at times can become overwhelming, but here are a couple first steps: 1) never badmouth parents 2) work to make it easy on parents to know what’s going on 3) talk with parents as you are able 4) include parents on at least one trip, meeting or experience each year. Not every student will come from a great home-life, but do your best to help build up the home. The norm is a messed up family (every family is to some degree). So, take things in stride and help kids feel secure while they are with you. Parents are your allies – and your ministry extends to them as you are serving their teenager. Do what you can to build bridges.
Don’t Neglect The Basics
Sticking to the basics requires commitment. As I heard it said, “Anyone can do two things at once. What’s really impressive is focusing on one thing at once.” We want to love Jesus, love students, and stay committed. We want to support our pastors, be faithful to our families and trust the Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to keep going year after year. But don’t side tracked on your mission and focus. You don’t have to stay in your role forever, but while you are, be fully there. Lead, serve, dream and keep coming up with ways to connect to students. Bigger is not always better, but strive for big – big connections, big impact, big grace and big joy as you serve. Keep yourself surrounded with a team of people to help in ministry. And keep growing in faith yourself. As you do this, you can’t help but rub off on students.
Your legacy in ministry to students won’t come from wowing students (or other churches) with big student ministry programs. Legacy comes from lives that are transformed. Individual students who were changed in part because of your work, is what will last for generations. Give God all the glory.
Have you purchased the new video series to watch with your student ministry leadership team? Take a look here.