I'll never forget how excited I was when I started as a full-time youth worker. All the possibilities, ideas, dreams, goals, and lives I was going to change. I had been waiting for this moment for years, and now...it was finally here! I was a real-deal youth pastor. Or at least that's what I thought...
Like so many who start a new job with excitement and enthusiasm, I couldn't wait to begin my new ministry as the youth director in a church in Western, PA. For the last 6 years I had been working with students on a volunteer and part-time basis, working with churches trying to reach the kids in their neighborhood and with a summer camp ministry for our denomination. Just the year before I was a full-time summer camp director at a small Christian camp in Northern PA. But now, now I had finally arrived, I was a full-time youth worker.
To say I was wide-eyed and green would be an understatement. I thought I was ready; thought I knew what I was getting into. Little did I know how much I would have to learn. That first year was amazing as I fumbled through the lessons of what it meant to be a youth worker. More than games and teaching, youth ministry is a career that requires a vast amount of wisdom, hope, faith, and flexibility.
Recently I was thinking, if I could pass along any help, any words of advice, any tips that work, any encouragement or wisdom to someone starting their first year in youth ministry, what would I say? If I went back to that first year, what would I change or do different? What did I learn? What did I wish I knew in those early years?
This is for you, the youth worker is who is just getting started in student ministry. What follows is an ongoing conversation that I hope helps you as you feel your way through your first couple of years. The stories, experiences, lessons, failures, and successes are from what I learned as a young youth worker. I share them with the hope of helping you win more than lose. I hope to encourage, inspire, and invigorate you as you consider how God has shaped and called you to serve the students in you church.
There's nothing like working with students. It's both challenging and rewarding. You will experience incredible mountain top highs, but you will also struggle with deep, dark, hurtful lows. You will cry with students who surrender their lives to God, celebrate with seniors who have been accepted into the college of their dreams, and rejoice as you watch students "get it" and "live it." Yet, you're heart will break as you watch as students lose a parent, sibling, family member, or friend. You will weep as you process the harsh words of criticism, the disappointment of a parent, and the discipline of church leadership who just don't understand. You will rethink your calling at the 23rd hour of your 24 hour lock-in, and when your senior pastor asks how your vacation was while you put away the gear from you week-long mission trip.
Yes, there's nothing like working with students. After 25+ years, with all the up's and down's, the joys and the heartbreaks, the wins and loses; I thank God for the amazing career I have been blessed with, the students that have walked in and out of our lives, and the hearts that have been changed because God chose to call me to minister to students.
In someways, I envy you. So much has changed in the world of youth ministry. It's an exciting time! And here you are, just getting started. It's going to be amazing!
Here's the first tip for you. Get a journal. On the inside page write these words, "Today begins the greatest adventure of my life. Today begins my life in student ministry. God, Let's do this!" Now, use this journal to record everything you experience as a youth work. Write down everything. The joys, the sorrows, the moments, the tears, the hurt, the celebration, the frustration, the wins. This is the story that God is writing through you! Capture it. You'll eventually want to look back on these days!
Enjoy the adventure!