As the phone rings you dread the idea of picking it up.  It’s not about who is on the other line as much as it is what that phone call might do to your day.  As you pick up the receiver you hope it’s a call that’s quick with no follow up.  Phone calls, emails, and paperwork are only a few of the things that clutter our schedule.  The reason they clutter is not because there are many, but because they are disorganized.  And when you are disorganized in what you do, you experience:

When our boundaries have been violated it’s easy to start throwing around the blame and losing focus on what’s important.  If you are going to have any chance of getting anything done in youth ministry, let alone survive the week you need to know what you are doing and why you are doing them.  This will help you set-up boundaries that are realistic and flexible; yet, will keep you on the right path.  To organize your responsibilities and stay within the boundaries you need to know:

WHAT IS IMPORTANT – It’s easy for a youth minister to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none and that’s because of a lack of focus.  If you are going to create any type of boundaries you need to know what has to fill up your day.  To figure this out you need to create a list of everything you do and narrow it down to the five most important responsibilities that only you can do.  The rest can be discarded or delegated.

WHAT IS URGENT – Urgent responsibilities are the unexpected events that have to be done; however, are not planned.  A perfect example is the death or illness of a teen in your ministry.  To work with the unexpected you need to be able to SCHEDULE IN MARGIN and COMMUNICATE WITH THOSE CLOSE TO YOU.  Scheduling in margin will give you leeway when something urgent comes across your desk like a teen in need.  Communicating with those close to you will enable you to talk about when family or personal time might need to be sacrificed.

WHAT IS DISPENSABLE – There are probably habits, meetings and responsibilities that you do that are no longer necessary.  To figure out which ones to keep and which ones to toss, list them and then by each item ask the questions, “What is its purpose?” and “How is this fueling us towards our vision?” If you cannot answer these questions toss them.  If there are ones you should keep but are not necessary for you to accomplish look at passing them on to a trusted volunteer or coworker.

When you can determine the importance and necessity of certain responsibilities you can build a healthy calendar.  The reason you leave an hour later than planned or continue to work at home is because you have organized your day.  After you know what it is you need to do and you paint out that 40 – 45 hour work week, ask God to give you the grace to do it.  After all he wants you to succeed, he doesn’t want you to compromise your family time or Sabbath.  Trust him.

How do you know what’s important, what’s urgent and what’s dispensable for your youth ministry?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

I have found that of all of the things that I have poured into my ministry that have had by far the biggest impact on individual lives and on groups as a whole is good, solid biblical teaching of God’s word. That means different things to different people. What I mean is regular (weekly), verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter teaching. Such teaching allows God’s word to teach God’s word, not choosing a topic to teach and then searching for various verses to back up the message you want to get across.

Now there is nothing wrong with topical teaching. I actually believe that a short stretch of a certain topic once in a while that pertains to your students is very healthy. But a regular diet of topical teaching is like feeding your students ice cream week after week. They need the meat of the word. And that means expository teaching.

Many people will disagree with this and I believe they mainly do because they either have not seen this type of teaching over a long period of time impact lives or they are ignorant or even lazy. Expository teaching is, here it is, hard work. It takes much more time and effort to dig for what a passage really means, what it meant for the people that it was written to, and what it means for its hearers now.

You will do your students an injustice now and over the long haul if you fudge in this area. We live in a world of extreme biblical ignorance and I believe that is mainly the church’s fault—starting in the youth ministry. If you focus your attention on developing your ability to teach the word in a way that truly feeds students solid meat, the impact of your effort will be seen in the lives of your students now and in their lives down the road as they continue to crave the meat of the word.

Youth ministry is a wonderful, unique, challenging, often misunderstood and rewarding career. It’s no longer as much a stepping stone to being a REAL pastor as it is a very specialized ministry that requires a disciplined work-ethic along with the ability to learn how to focus on what one has been specifically called to do. This takes years of patience, endurance, faith and heart to get it right. In my experience, more than 30.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.

“Leadership is influence – The ability to obtain followers – The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” *ch1 Your students don’t need your friendship as much as they need you to lead them. They also need you to help them develop their leadership skills. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” *ch 10

Leadership seems to be more and more of a lost art in youth ministry. It is so easy to get lost or buried in the week in and week out responsibilities of lesson and meeting prep and all of the other details that can engulf you in youth ministry that you neglect to build into yourself, your leaders and you students what they need most: the joy of knowing how God has called them to lead in whatever situation in life that they find themselves.

Let’s face it, if leadership is influence, then everyone in your ministry is and will be a leader. You have the privilege of helping people learn to lead where they are and to learn skills that will carry into their marriages, families, businesses and ministries.

You do this by helping them to see where they are gifted and allowing them to try on different ways of using their gifts. If all of your time is spent developing your program and trying to be “successful” (whatever that looks like for you), then you will surely end up neglecting the development of leaders.

This means more than just helping your students and volunteers figure out how to lead. It means first and foremost helping them understand what it means to be a servant leader. They need to know what the heart of a leaders looks like. They need to see that a true leader ultimately serves those he or she leads out of love for them and a desire to see them succeed. Focus on helping them learn to have the heart of a leader.

Now this is all fine, but if you are not constantly developing your own leadership skills, you will constantly bump into your own shortcomings in this area. I suggest you do a few things to develop your own leadership skills:

  1. Read books on leadership
  2. Ask others how they perceive you as a leader. Ask for an honest critique.
  3. Put yourself in situations that stretch your present leadership skills.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.

To be teachable not only means that you can be taught how to do ministry but it also, and more importantly, means that you are able to learn from your mistakes and from others’ advice. To not be teachable is to be arrogant and ultimately a sub-par youth worker.

How can you know if you are a teachable person? A teachable person welcomes input into their life and ministry (and then implements it), especially input that is tough to hear, but necessary. A teachable person longs for input that will in any way make them a better person and help them to have a healthy ministry. If you find that you are hyper-sensitive to input that goes against your ideas, or that you are less than positive about getting others’ input, you are not a teachable person.

As I stated above, making assumptions that you know how to “do” ministry can be your Achilles heel. The reality is that the moment you stop learning, you die. Having the mindset of a continual learner will help you to stay fresh and keep the people you work with fresh and excited about ministry and their faith. Knowing your church and community culture is vital. There are other things though that you need to always be learning about.

First and foremost it is important to be a continual learner in your faith. You are young. Don’t assume that what you believe in now is all that God has for you. You may find that as you pursue learning some of the theological beliefs that you held near and dear as you grew up or learned in bible college aren’t necessarily true or as concrete as you thought. Is Reformed Theology 100% true? What is your End Times beliefs? Young or old earth? NIV or ESV? These might seem unnecessary for youth ministry, but believe me, you will come across these and more as you forge ahead and want to know what YOU believe, not what others have told you to believe, especially if you are a teachable person.

Next, is to be a continual learner as far as how to communicate to young people. As you learn the style of communication and teaching that you feel most comfortable with, it is important that you not think that it is the final word. You will find that as you mature as a person and as a minister, how you communicate will also mature. The adage that I have always lived by when it comes to communicating and teaching is, “You are never as bad as you think and you are never as good as you think.”

Lastly, always be learning about how to best reach the students that God has called you to reach and minister to. Just because a camp, retreat, style of worship, room set-up, time of meeting or any program is working great, don’t assume that it will be that way in the future. Never adopt the, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mindset in ministry. Look around you. The most successful endeavors in society, especially with technology, happen because people are watching and learning how to best stay effective.

Not that you need to adopt the world’s way of doing things per se. But to assume that something will always work just because it has been working is ludacris. The needs of your youth group will change. They’d BETTER change! If you are pouring into your ministry as you should be, change will happen, in you and in others. Needs will change. Learn to discern when these changes are taking place and always be learning what you need to do to facilitate these changes.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.


I believe that one of the big reasons that youth workers come and go so quickly in churches is that they are not team players. Too many, for reasons of insecurity, pride or both, come into a ministry convinced of how they want to “do ministry” and after a year or two wonder why they keep butting heads with either students, parents, church leadership or all of the afore mentioned. Chances are that if you end up having conflict on a somewhat regular basis with any one of these parties, the problem is you.

To me, being a team player in youth ministry means being committed to the vision of your church’s overall youth ministry and ultimately the vision of the church you are working at. As a good team player, you need to know your role and how that role fits into the overall vision of your ministry and church.

This means that you need to be a student of your church. You need to be a learner. I will talk more about this later. But for now, one of the best things you can do, especially for the first year or so, is to learn all you can about your church. Where has it come from? What are some of the significant events that have shaped the church culture and youth ministry? What is your church’s vision for the future and how do they plan on seeing it fulfilled? How do they expect the youth ministry to fit into that vision? Make sure you go to different leaders and members of your church for this information.

Every church has its unique culture and getting to know that culture takes time. Lots of time. It’s just plain crazy to think that you can execute your plans for your ministry and hope they will succeed if you don’t understand the culture in which they will be executed. What works wonderfully at one church may totally flop at another often times because of the different church cultures. If you don’t take the time to get to know your church’s culture, you will most likely end up not being a team player and find yourself constantly bumping into problems.

You need to also work at being a team player with other churches and youth ministry organizations. Never assume that your ministry, however established it is or becomes has all the answers. Your ministry will have a specific role in your community. Because you are going to want to have a ministry that has an impact on your community, you need to know who the other players are in your community. Who else is ministering in your community and what does their role seem to be?

This is not a very popular thing to do in most youth ministry circles. By default, most churches, and especially youth ministries, become very ingrown and focused only on what their calling is in their community. This makes sense because running a ministry takes a lot of work. But this still gives you no excuse to not engage with other youth ministry colleagues in order to better reach your community.

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.

This post is part of the Lessons Learned series. Read part 1 here.

I remember being a new in youth ministry and craving to know how to best do all of the things necessary to have a successful youth ministry. I read every book I could get my hands on. I found though, that the best thing I ever did was connect with and build relationships with other, more seasoned youth workers. Picking their brains, even observing their programs gave me tremendous insight.

As a matter of fact, I found networking with other youth workers to be such a tremendous blessing to both me and to them that I did it right up until I left youth ministry. I found that networking was so encouraging to me that I once headed up a network of youth workers in my area for a few years mainly so that we could come together to support and pray for each other along with sharing some ministry insights with each other. We collaborated on a few events, but that was not our purpose for meeting. We needed each other.

As the adage goes, “You need to stand tall on the shoulders of those that have gone before you.” Some things about doing ministry you just need to figure out for yourself. But don’t waste time trying to figure out things that people have already figured out and will work great for you.

In my 30 years of ministry, especially in my earlier years, I admit that I very often didn’t keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. For me the main thing is actually two things; my relationship with God and my family. As a single guy you will be tempted to work way more than you should (I sure did, even after starting a family). As I stated earlier, being faithful in ministry means working hard and smart. You also need to work hard and smart so you can stop working. Those that are undisciplined in their work habits will often find it difficult to stop working at the end of the day and never really “clock out.” Things don’t get done during the workday so work is taken home, either physically or mentally or both. This is detrimental to your spiritual, personal and family life.

If you can never put work away, both in front of you and in your mind, the constant distraction will cause you to pay the price in the form of a dry personal and spiritual life. Work will begin to invade your prayer life (as a distraction, not as matters of prayer). Work will invade you personal life by constantly invading spaces that should be reserved for friends and family.

Some suggestions:

    1. Put everything on your schedule/calendar, including your quiet time and times with friends and family.
    2. Keep a daily to-do list and stick to it as much as possible.
    3. Keep a clean office and desk. A cluttered office and desk only add to the chaos and make it more difficult to focus.
    4. Decide which nights you will keep sacred for friends and family (as much as possible).

Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.