Friday, September 2, 2011

7 Things: Youth Ministry No-Nos

Adults who work with youth
should look happy like this...
Youth Ministry is not a science, it is an art form.  There is no one way to do it correctly; it requires constant adjustments and course corrections.  But even with that being said, in my experience there are some things that are absolute "no-nos" when it comes to the day in, day out work of student ministry.  These are right up there with things like "don't take the toaster in the bathtub" and "don't mess with Chuck Norris."  I learned they are no-nos because I did all of them, at least once- and discovered how much damage they can do to a ministry.  So here we go- 7 things that youth ministry leaders should never do...or never do again...

Not stressed & insane like this!
  1. Never be on time.  Yes, you read that right.  If you are the leader- the head honcho, the main man, the big dog, numero uno- then you need to be on site and ready to go at least 30 minutes before anything is scheduled to start.  Why?  Because you know kids will show up early, and they should ALWAYS have a safe and friendly face waiting to greet them.  I liked to be an hour early so I could get a little prayer time in before stuff started, but that's just me.  I always thought that if I wasn't 30 minutes early, I was late.  Believe it!
  2. Do not have double standards.  The same rules and standards need to apply to everyone involved- and that includes the adults.  When I worked at camp back in the late 70s, the counselors and the campers were not allowed to have soda all week.  The staff (lifeguards, cooks, etc.) had a refrigerator full of the stuff. It was so flagrant we all called soda "DS"- double standard.  Make everyone live by the same guidelines. If you are having an "electronics free" retreat, then the adults need to turn off their phones too.  Double standards can destroy the community you are seeking to build.
  3. Do not cancel an event due to low attendance.  This one makes me crazy.  Over and over again I have seen and heard of youth pastors having only a couple of kids show up for an event, and then sending them home.  What kind of message does that send?  We're telling teenagers that the event was what was important, not them.  If you had a 3 team relay race planned and 2 students show up, then yes- you will have to change your plan.  But do not send them home as if their presence is not enough to validate your ministry.  I always tried to do something special for them, like take them out to dinner, so that everyone who missed the event would think twice about missing again!  But that's just me...
  4. Do not automatically choose a youth's point of view over that of their parents.  We want to be advocates for the youth we serve, and it is so very tempting to always take their side in skirmishes between them and their parents.  Often their point of view is the only one we hear.  We are not being faithful to our calling if our actions and words drive a wedge between parents and students.  Listen to your students, but don't assume that you are getting the full story or that they are right.  Be an advocate for the family, not just the student.
  5. Do not talk smack about your Senior Pastor in front of your students.  I know that on occasion youth pastors and senior pastors have been known to disagree (major understatement!).   I worked with 2 pastors I disrespected so much I have refused to type their names when writing about them in this blog.  But publicly, you need to support your pastor.  Yes, you need to vent your feelings and express your emotions.  But your students are the wrong crowd.  Period.  I wish I had learned this one BEFORE I met The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named...
  6. Never expect the worst from a student.  If you do, that is exactly what you will get.  You cannot get respect and trust if you never give it.  Youth ministries that attempt to legislate spirituality with 10,000 rules and adult sponsors who act like a S.W.A.T. team create an atmosphere of distrust that can destroy community.  I'm not saying be naive and let them get away with murder; I'm simply suggesting that the rest of society assumes teenagers cannot be trusted.  We need to be different.  I once had a group on a Ski Trip, and we shared a floor of the motel with another group.  The amount of rules and restrictions this group operated under boggled the mind, yet they were still wild.  I invited them to join us for our late night worship, and the youth pastor said no.  He was afraid they would be too disruptive.  He didn't understand that the way he treated them actually bred their behavior.  After they went in their rooms at night, he would put tape on the doors so he could see if anyone tried to sneak out.  When we left very early on our last day, we took all the tape off the doors.  It was our own little act of civil disobedience.  If you have that little trust in your students, then either don't take them on trips or find another profession.  Thus endeth this rant.  :)
  7. Don't forget why you do what you do.  Never forget that amidst all of the programs, events, trips, fundraising, relationship issues, parents, church committees and everything else, youth ministry is first and foremost all about Jesus.  'Nuff said.
Those are a few of things I consider to be no-nos.  Please feel free to add to the list.

    Because of Jesus,


    1. Anonymous9/02/2011

      #5 is just so hard sometimes. Glad to know I am not the only one who has failed at that one.

    2. Thankful for your post. I find all (but #5) apply as a parent (and shepherd) of teenagers as well. Thank you for the reminder!

      Wishing you the best, always!


    Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!