In youth ministry you change churches. It happens. I've changed churches four times. Not because of discontent or controversy, but simply because God has moved us around a bit. That means a lot of transition, change, and things to learn.
Transition; at some point most of us will experience it. But how and what we do during that transition can either set us up for good, or lead us into bad choices that effect our ministry. Having been through multiple transitions, the most recent being just six months ago, I've learned a few things that have helped to make the transition experience a little smoother.
Three simple things to keep in mind when you find yourself as the NEW GUY (0r GAL)!
Every church is unique to its context and culture. No church is the same. Some churches are neck deep in tradition and history, dating back maybe an hundred years or more. Other churches are relatively young. Yet they too, have a culture of their own. I think it's super important that your first priority as a new employee is to learn the culture of the church you have been called to serve.
It's often hard not to come into a situations filled with ideas and changes. We want to swoop in and show off our extensive knowledge and expertise. We bring what we've done in the past with us, and we apply it to the new church, because it worked for us before. But sometimes, what worked once in one context, doesn't always translate to the new setting. It's super helpful to take your first six months to a year to simply learn the culture. Be observent and watch what's happening around you. Talk with the people from your new congregation. Not just the students and parents, but the leadership and members without children. Have lunch with the older folks, ask them questions, get them to share their stories, and simply get to know the environment, the history, the community, the passions, and the goals of the new church.
When was the last time you really listened to your church/students? I don't mean hearing them, I mean really listening? It is crucial that you develop the ability to listen and listen well. What do I mean? I mean, being able to hear an elder or older member, a parent or a student and zero in on what they are saying and why they are saying it.
In my second church, one of the first things I did was to pull all the student leaders and adult leaders together and ask them what they loved, disliked, and would change in their student ministry. As I listened, I compiled a huge list of items, then I set out to make things right. What was loved stayed. What was disliked was eliminated. What they would change was changed. I thought I was doing so good! That is until it all blew up in my face.
You see, what I heard were personal thoughts and opinions, but what I missed was the fact that this was a group with a long, healthy, growing history. While it sounded like they wanted a bunch of things to change, all they really wanted was to talk about the group that they loved. When I came in and changed everything, it felt like I was taking away their group. Sure they may have wanted the changes, but they also wanted to be a part of the change. In learning how to carefully listen and discern what you're hearing, you will be able to sort through the data and proper calculate what you're really hearing. It's like when a counselor listens to a patient; they're listening and looking for the root of the problem and not just the symptoms. When they have noted the problem they can then address the problem and not just the symptom. This takes practice, time, and a lot of prayer.
When it's all said and done, as we get to know our new surroundings, the greatest thing we can do is love. Yeah, that might be a no-brainer, but it's worth the reminding.
In each of the churches I've served, learning to love the church family has proven to be crazy important. This is demonstrated through real and sincere attempts to get to know those around you. And not just the students in your ministry, or the parents and families under your care, but a true heart for the people in your congregation is an absolute must.
Regardless of what your title might be; Director, Coordinator, Worker, Volunteer, youth GUY or youth GAL, YOU ARE A PASTOR. You are called to be a shepherd; one who cares for, protects and provided for the people under you. No shepherd focuses his attention and love towards one grouping of his flock. He loves and protects ALL of them! All of them are precious. All of them are cherished. Because all of them are valuable. We in the world of student ministry need to remember that we need to be loving, not just to our students and their families, but the rest of the family who sit in the pews.
Transition always comes with it's highs and lows. We excited and full of ideas and energy and want to jump in a go, go, go! But there can be real danger if we jump in and mix things up too fast. By taking the time to LEARN, LISTEN, AND LOVE, we make great inroads towards gaining trust, building friendships, and growing a healthier, more sustainable ministry. And that's what I'm striving for!
Jay Higham is a 24 year veteran of student ministry; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently the Youth Director at Hickory Church, located in Western PA. Jay has been married to Amy for 19 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, 4 boys and 1 little girl. Jay is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and caring for the hearts of husbands. You can learn more about their ministry to the family and husband by visiting their family blog at, www.TheHighamFamily.com!