After two years of youth ministry I felt like I got in a groove.  I knew my roles and responsibilities.  I wasn’t shocked when a parent addressed a concern with emotion.  I was comfortable asking others to get involved; life was good.  Then five years rolled by and everything started to click.  I felt like I understood systems and structures.  I was okay with droughts in creativity and multitasking.

As each year ticks by your level of confidence as a youth minister will grow.  And that’s because with each year you gain experiential wisdom.  It’s priceless and so beneficial; however, it alone will not take your youth ministry to the next level.  There are going to be opportunities that you need to take advantage of that will launch you to the next level.

These opportunities are like launching pads.  You focus on them, you make them a part of your mantra and they take you to the next level.  Three of those launching pads are:

Spiritual Accountability – On a daily basis you are pouring into others.  Whether it’s teenagers, their parents or your own team, you are draining yourself continuously.  While we know the source for replenishment lies with God, we need men and women who are going to help us out.  Three ways you should embrace spiritual accountability are through an Adult Small Group and One on One Spiritual Direction.  You need people reminding you to trust in the Lord, because without Him nothing is possible.

Embrace Risk – Taking chances is a habit that many of us need to embrace.  It’s not about being clumsy or careless, taking risk means getting over our fears to do something big.  To embrace risk properly you need to Trust in God, Gather Insight and Lean Into The Tension. Granted it might be scary; however, people will want to follow you, because they’ll see your courage.  People want a leader who isn’t afraid to fail and will do what it takes to succeed.

Collaborate With Peers – If you aren’t working and networking with other youth ministers than you are traveling a very lonely road.  When you can network with peers in youth ministry you open yourself up to some awesome ideas.  You give yourself the opportunity to learn, think outside the box and problem solve with a new perspective.  When you work with the other guys, they’ll show you how to get to the next level.  Three places to collaborate are Through Social Media, Over A Cup Of Coffee and Attending Conferences.  Get together with others.

It’s important to ask yourself the question, “How can I continue to grow as a professional youth minister?” When you utilize the right launching pads you answer that question.

What other opportunities can we embrace to take youth ministry to the next level?

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.

TEACH THE WORD
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.

LAST WORDS
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.



DEVELOP YOUR AND OTHERS LEADERSHIP SKILLS
“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.

ALWAYS BE TEACHABLE AND A CONTINUAL LEARNER
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.



BE A TEAM PLAYER

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.

NETWORK
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.

ATTEND TO THE THINGS THAT ARE MOST IMPORTANT
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.



There is something totally entrancing about boxers and MMA fighters. I watch them do something that I don’t think that I am equipped to do…physically or mentally. Even more amazing than watching the actual fight is talking to them afterward. I have had the privilege of serving with a leader who is getting his MMA career back on track after a surgery. To hear him talk about fighting, you would be astonished. It isn’t a street fight for him. It is a chess match. ”If the other guy does this, I will do this, but if he turns and uses his left hand then I am going to change and do this with my upper body to block his attack.” I could sit and listen to him talk about it all day long.

Another thing that makes him successful is the team that he surrounds himself with. In the sport of fighting, there are timed rounds and a short break in between. During that time the fighter sits in his corner with his team who has a totally different view of what is going on. They bring another perspective, bandage him up and tell him to start doing things and stop doing others. They boost his confidence and tell him where he is performing well or poorly. In his last fight, he was gracious in attributing his quick win to the collaborative effort of all those who invested in him. It wasn’t just about his own amazing ability and fighting skill, he recognized that without those around him it would not have been a successful or victorious fight.

It is highly likely that I will never step into a ring to fight. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a battle of our own in the world of ministry. What I know to be true is that in our success and failure, in our effort and our gifting we still have our own battle. Part of it is physical in nature. Some of it is spiritual. All of it is about God. In that, there will be times that we feel excited about our calling and ready to head out in the fight. Even when we are “winning” we will take on some amount of “battle damage”. Even the best fighters have a black eye or cauliflower ear from time to time.

Recently I had one of those days. I was taking hits and they were beginning to have their effect on me. I will neither confirm or deny that I may or may not have thrown a chair(s) in frustration. My prayer time after this was less holy and controlled and more screams and accusations. God and I worked through that, and I left that time confessing that I felt alone. I told Him I wasn’t sure how long I could hold on if I was doing this thing by myself. In the span of 24 hours God placed (or reminded me of) four different people in my life to sit and listen, encourage, and help me get perspective and get back out there…which was so necessary.

Being in a new city doing ministry I am still in the process of finding those people who are “in my corner”. Not everyone is going to be your best friend or know all about you. But what I found from all of my conversations is that these were people who had different roles in my life and different skill sets. They are able to speak into different parts of my life. The structure, the spirituality, the craft, and even to the nature of my own heart. What they had in common was some level of care and affection for me. They want me to “win,” if you will.

I would suspect these people don’t even fully know that they did what they did. They were just being themselves and being generous with who God made them to be.

People in your corner come in different forms. I have those I seek out and ask to join in my fight. I have those who are in my life, regardless of what I am doing. I have those who are fighting their own fight, but I can learn by watching them. And then those people that God has brought into my life, and I have no good reason as to why I deserve them.

The great thing is, those people can change roles, evolve, and deepen in relationship over time. So I try to not write anyone off. I have also found that as I begin to establish who support me, I have become better at being in other people’s corner as well. I wipe their sweat. I bandage them up. And then send them out into their own fight. It’s not always just about my fight, but helping others in their own battles.

Jeff Bachman is the High School Pastor at Rock Harbor Church just up the road in Irvine, CA. Feel free to leave comments or email him at jbachman@rockharbor.org and of course subscribe to his blog The Until Matters.

Spending some time each week creating some Youth Ministry 101 training times for our team. Here’s a little clip from a recent one on the importance of continually learning:

Uncle Sam sent many of his sons to war with absolute minimums of training. Some fighter pilots entered combat in 1942 with less than one hour in their assigned aircraft. The 357th Fighter Group (often known as The Yoxford Boys) went to England in late 1943 having trained on P-39s. The group never saw a Mustang until shortly before its first combat mission. A high-time P-51 pilot had 30 hours in type. Many had fewer than five hours. Some had one hour. With arrival of new aircraft, many combat units transitioned in combat. The attitude was, “They all have a stick and a throttle. Go fly `em.” When the famed 4th Fighter Group converted from P-47s to P-51s in February 1944, there was no time to stand down for an orderly transition. The Group commander, Col. Donald Blakeslee, said, “You can learn to fly `51s on the way to the target.

The best youth workers are learners. Be a learner. When you stop learning you stop leading. We have the opportunity to learn before we get into battle!

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT)

  • Blogs – subscribe to a ton of blogs. They’re free, easy to read, and easy to share. Ruthlessly delete ones that don’t look like they apply or are interesting. Unsubscribe if they get lame. Read, read, read.
  • Books – get a book a month, read it. Marinate it. Mark it up. Put it on your shelf to remember your conquest.
  • Other youth workers are a great source of learning – Get together with youth workers in your network. Start a network. Lead a network that is failing. Get together with like-minded ministers and learn.
  • Experience is a great teacher – the lesson is learned after the win/loss, so it isn’t preventative like the other methods. But don’t undervalue the learning that comes from experience.

JG