How to be a Youth Minister for 5 years without killing yourself or others

I recently saw this post on Facebook and realized that if you replaced the word “teacher” with “youth minster” it was still all pretty much true. So here are some thoughts with credit and thanks to Justin Stortz.

You’re more than a youth minister
You might be a mom or a dad or a friend or a daughter or an uncle. Yes, you are a youth minister, but you have other relationships to maintain and enjoy.

Remember it’s a job
Youth ministry might be the best thing to ever happen to you. It is okay to love, love, love it with forkless spaghetti dinners, talent shows, and epic Dodgeball tournaments. But try to remember it’s still a job (even if you’re a volunteer).

Set boundaries and keep them
Try not to stay at church until the sexton kicks you out. The parish administrator gets testy when you set off the alarm late at night and the police call and wake up his wife. (Not that I would know.) Set limits with how much you work in the evenings and weekends, and when you will answer the phone or respond to text messages. Live in the moment when you’re not at church. (Plus it sets a good example for our youth and parents!)

Don’t get full of yourself
It’s easy to get puffed up on pride. Stay humble. None of us know it all. Luckily, just when you think you know it all, a student or a sermon will whack you upside the head…be ready for the blow.

Have other hobbies besides youth ministry
The best advice I ever heard was from The Rev. Craig Loya and that was to make sure you have one activity each week that is non-church related. It keeps you sane and gives you perspective to have friends outside the church.

Don’t let youth ministry consume you
Learn to let go of the illusion of control. Let the Holy Spirit work in and through you. Like the old prayer goes:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Manage your expectations
Youth Ministry is hard. No youth ministry training event could prepare you for how hard it is.  Students are busy and they may share things with you that are tough. You will fail. But that’s okay. Pray, vent, and move on.

You will never be finished with your work
A youth minister’s work is never done. Seriously. You will never be finished. There will always be something else you could be doing: a play you could attend, a Facebook post to respond to. Every time you cross off one thing from your to-do list, two more things will be added. Like a sink of dirty dishes, it really can wait until tomorrow.

Take care of yourself
Youth work is a big job. Don’t neglect the basics. Exercise. Eat well. And get plenty of sleep. It’s like the oxygen masks that come down when you’re on an airplane. You put yours on first, then you put them on the children. You have to take care of yourself if you want to be effective. (Again, this is a great place to be a good example to your students and parents.)

What am I missing? What other ideas do you have?

Peace be with you,
~Karen

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