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!
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 student ministry director at a church, located in Western PA. 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.