As I think back over the last 25 years of ministry with students, I am amazed by all that God has done. I think of the students, the activities, the trips, the moments that proved to be life changing, for me and for my students. But for all the memories I remember, I know there are moments that I am forgetting. I wish I had the idea back then to keep a journal.
As a teen in high school, I headed journaling. Did you have to journal for a class? Oh, it was a pain. I wasn't much of a writer then, so trying to come up with enough thoughts to fill a paragraph was a real chore. But now, I wish I had a better habit of journaling, especially knowing how much it would help with remembering the past.
In yesterday's post, So Your Just Getting Started, I shared at the very end of the post the idea of picking up a journal and recording your experiences as a new youth worker in your first year of ministry. The more I thought about it, the more I realized, Hey, I wish I would have kept a journal during those first couple years of ministry!
My first couple of years were littered with trial and error, successes and failures, huge wins, and painful defeats. I experienced a gambit of emotions, wrestled with a lack of confidence and wondered, What have I gotten myself into? At the same time, it was the time of my life as I grew and matured, and found a rhythm and a place in youth ministry.
Record your wins; the things that work, the experiments that turn out to be successful, the moments that produce kingdom fruit. Write down the failures; the mistakes you make, the talk that totally bombed, and the disappointment when all your hard work still fell short of everyone else's expectations.
Write down the names; students who got it, and changed their lives, the leaders who felt insecure and ill-equipped but ended up being your best volunteers, and the parents who doubted you on day one but became your biggest supporter on day 114.
Share the moments you feel alone, abandon by your lead pastor, your team, your students. The moments of sadness and hurt, fear and pain. Record how you see God moving, changing lives, moving people, and growing his kingdom through you!
Youth ministry is hard. Any veteran with 5 years or more will tell you story after story of the struggles and difficulties that come being a youth worker. But, youth ministry is also amazing, and for every story of struggle there is a story of joy!
I wouldn't trade a moment of my career for anything. It has been the greatest adventure I could ever experience. I have been blessed to participate in a ministry that God has used to change peoples lives. And to sit down and catch up with former students, laugh over the memories, and celebrate with their God-stories...well, there's nothing like it. I think it's why I am still in student ministry today.
So go, get a journal. And, begin recording the story that God is writing with you.
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!
Combining two of my favorite things today, resourcing youth workers and Pine Springs Camp!
As you may know, I am a huge supporter of Pine Springs Camp. Located in Jennerstown, PA just of of route 980 and route 30, Pine Springs is 247 acres of incredible ministry possibilities. With an amazing summer camp program, Pine Springs is now growing their retreating ministry! With the brand new Refuge, a dinning hall and multi-purpose, newly winterized cabins, and ample recreational space and opportunities, Pines Spring just might be the perfect place for your next retreat!
Pine Springs is heading to the Pittsburgh Youth Workers Conference! be sure to stop by their table and learn how Pine Springs can serve you, your students and your church!
We're two months away for one of my most favorite and most necessary events for student ministry, the 2017 National Youth Workers Convention. It's time to start talking about the convention and what I'm looking forward to most!
One of the things that you have to know about me is that I am a huge supporter of the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC), hosted by Youth Specialties. I attended my first convention in 1999. I had just accepted my first, full-time position as a Youth Director, for a church in the Pittsburgh, PA area. I had heard about NYWC, but hadn't yet had the opportunity to attend as I was just a kid getting started in student ministry.
The convention that year was held in two locations, the first on the west coast, the second in Cincinnati, OH. I attended the convention in Cincinnati.So I, along with my wife and our newborn son (Nate was our second son, by the way. Our first born who was already a year old stayed with some friends.) made our way to Cincinnati not sure what to expect, but excited nonetheless.
It didn't take me long to realize that NWYC was going to become a very important part of my ministry and my life. 18 years laters, NYWC is still an important part of both my ministry and my life.
Each year, as the convention approaches, I share a few things about the convention that I love, recommend, and look forward to the most. So in keeping with my tradition, let me share three things that I absolutely love about the National Youth Workers Convention.
Get More With Intensives...
I sat through my first Intensive in 2000. It was awesome. Then, I believe, the Intensives were 6 hours, and spanned two days. An extra fee, Intensives are designed to give attendees a long, deeper, more detailed look into various aspects of student ministry. Topics vary from year to year, but help to train up the youth worker by providing specific, helpful and practical information that really works when applied to your ministry. Led by experts, real youth workers with real experience, Intensives offer not just information, but the opportunities to ask questions, get help and really process the material so that it's something that you can use.
Over the years I have taken Intensives for worship and worship leader, culture, message prep and writing, and speaking/teaching. They have been some of the most important parts of understanding student ministry, youth culture and the role of the youth worker.
If you have not taken advantage of the NYWC Intensives, I would highly recommend that you consider registering for one of this years offerings.
Here is a quick list of topics and presenters for 2017...
Take Time to Rest and Reconnect...
Rest is a good thing. It's a necessity. A biblical mandate. The problem is, youth workers don't rest enough. There is always something that needs to be completed, a student that needs to ministered to, and a technical issue with the VCR in one of the Sunday school classrooms. When all is said and done, we don't rest well, if we rest at all.
I loved Mike Yaconelli, co-founder of YS and NYWC. I never really had the opportunity to talk or know Mike, but every year at the first general session (now called Big Room) Mike would address and welcome the convention. It was the same speech every year. But it was one of the first times someone told me that it was okay to slow down, even stop and rest.
The convention is a placed filled with resources, exhibits, training opportunities, and possibilities for networking. But, NYWC is also a place to rest and be renewed. It's a place where you can choose to sleep in, go to bed early, or just sleep all day. It's a place to disconnect and relax, to do something fun, explore, or just be. NYWC, in wanting to give you access to some of the best resources, speakers, trainers, coaches, and entertainment, also cares about your spiritual well-being. You are encouraged to take a step back and evaluate your faith journey. We work all year to disciple and serve and teach and lead our students, too often at the cost of care for our own hearts, our own growth, our own relationship with our Savior. NYWC is a place where we can reconnect with the Lover of our souls.
NYWC offers youth workers an opportunity to visit the Sanctuary and Prayer Chapel to pray, sit, be quiet, and to be renewed. You can visit with one of a number of spiritual directors who are there to care for your soul. If you're married, NYWC is an opportunity for you and your spouse to enjoy some time alone. Take advantage of your hotel stay. Have a date night with dinner and explore a new city. Sit up late and watch a movie. Order room service and have breakfast in bed.
Rest. It's important. It's a necessity. It's good for you.
Get on the Right Track...
Sit in on any of the 90+ seminars and you will walk away with valuable information, tips, tools, and resources. But if you want some specific help in a particular area of ministry, you might want to consider taking one of the NYWC Tracks.
Tracks, like the Intensives, are designed to offer youth workers specific information on a given topic. These tracks are led by our youth experts who know and serve in the related areas. Go a little deeper. Ask questions. Hear practical, hands-on and effective tips that will help you in your ministry.
This year, NYWC is offering 3 Track topics;
Be sure to look these Tracks up in the schedule and think about how they might help you and your ministry.
Whether you are a long-time NYWC attendee or maybe thinking about attending for the first time, let me invite you to join us this November in Memphis, TN for the Nation Youth Workers Convention! Early-bird pricing ends on October 5th, 2017.
Visit the NYWC website today for more details and to register for the convention.
This year, I will be helping out as a volunteer, serving at the HUB. If you have any questions about the convention or needs while in Memphis come by and see us. If you found this article helpful, please stop by and introduce yourself to me, I'd love to meet you.
If you have something you love and look forward to at NYWC, please share it in the comments below. What you love could be the very thing that someone else needs to hear to help them make the decision to join us this fall!
The National Youth Workers Convention
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the director of family ministry at a church, located in West Virginia. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.