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Your Three Most Important Skills

 —  August 12, 2013 — 8 Comments


You can’t be good at everything. You don’t need to be good at everything. And lots of stuff you are really good at or hoping to become good at don’t really matter too much at the end of the day.  So what if we narrowed it down to only THREE things youth workers do need to be good at; what might be the top three universal skills of a youth worker?  NOTE: I purposely left “spiritual” things such as prayer life, integrity etc. off the list because (whether true or not) I’m gonna assume we’ve got that stuff dialed in.

My List:

* The ability to be a fantastic active listener.  Just being a good listener isn’t enough, but being a fantastic active listener means you are listening, responding with guiding questions, probing here and there and picking up on themes that you might want to dig into deeper at another time.

* Patience. Patience makes almost everything better! Being patient with the annoying students, the struggling students, the cocky students, the “church” students, parents, elders, volunteers, yourself and the whole “process” of youth ministry and discipleship may be the most underrated but important skill/mindset you can have.

* A strong work ethic. This next statement won’t win me many fans, but here it goes: Lots of youth workers are lazy. To be specific, lots of full-time youth workers are lazy. We have somehow confused reading blogs, downloading sweet apps and checking the Instagrams of our students as hard work. Don’t get me wrong, times have changed and how we work is in a state of flux, but (and here’s the money tip…) many of the people we work for such as senior pastors, elders, parents etc. don’t yet “get it” and still expect us to be willing to do the nitty-gritty grunt work every now and again. When we complain that we haven’t had a day off in almost an entire week, or insist on taking an extra day off after the grueling scavenger hunt we led for our small group they have a hard time feeling our pain.  Here’s a tough question: If an elder followed you around for a week, would he feel compelled to recommend you for a raise or that you be replaced with a part-time college student?

What skills would be at the top of your list?

Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston


Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

8 responses to Your Three Most Important Skills

  1. BOOM! Right on Kurt, but OUCH! I know I am lazy according to this description. I definitely know and feel the need to do these things you describe that elders and church members don’t get but they do cause a lot of distractions and wasted time in my day as well. I must become more discipline in making sure my time on social media is 100% work and not let it become the distraction and time-suck that is so easily becomes.

    Anyone have any suggestions?

    • Jeff,
      First, thanks for being vulnerable. Concerning social media, one idea might be to treat it like any “task” you have during the day and block specific time out for it, much like many people do with Email (at least us old people who still use email!). My hunch is that if you set aside two 30-minute chunks per day to read tweets, look at Instagram, cruise Facebook, etc you might feel just as in touch and much less distracted overall. Dang, that’s a great idea….I may try it myself!

  2. At my first youth pastor position I followed a youth pastor who apparently was never at the office. One of the questions during the church wide grilling at the “Let’s all meet Andy and interview him together” lunch was, “How many hours will you spend in the office and what will you do when in the office?” I wasn’t wise enough to key in on that as an issue with the previous dude. It took at least 3 years to change some people’s views of the youth pastor at that church. The moral to the story: Do us all a favor and listen to Kurt!
    Side note – it’s always a good thing to keep track of your hours and how they are spent

  3. Thanks for writing this. I feel that the work ethic issue is a serious one. I have a theory that every full-time youth worker should be required to work a “real” job before taking their first student ministry position. There is no substitute for learning how to work hard and self-motivate. Thanks.

  4. I can see how this post might not win you many friends! But having been in youth ministry and in the corporate world I believe there are varying degrees of what “hard work” is. I’m also in the process of evaluating my church’s youth director…who we love…but is a little lazy.

    I think I will have a couple of older deacons shadow him for a week. That’ll be fun!

  5. Love your last question. Those 3 are good. While not a skill as such, it is important to value the God-given intrinsic worth of each young person, regardless of appearance, personality, etc.

    • Kurt Johnston

      “….to value the God-given intrinsic worth of each young person.”

      True , not a traditional skill, but if we don’t have that mindset as part of our youth worker DNA, I fear we are doing more harm than good!

      Great thought, Claire.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. What I'm Reading | Aaron Buer - August 17, 2013

    […] for student ministry, Kurt Johnston at Saddleback is an absolute boss.  I love what he has to say here, especially about work-ethic among youth pastors.  This is something I’ve written about […]

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