Monday, June 25, 2012

Tom Zalatnai: "If I Were Starting Over..."

Today begins a 5 day series of guest posts from youth pastors on the theme, "If I Were Starting Over in Youth Ministry."  Today's comes from one of my Canadian Twitter friends, Tom Zalatnai.  I hope this series will help us each focus on lessons learned from our time in ministry.  Enjoy!  And thanks for kicking us off in style, Tom!

I lead a small youth group at an Anglican church in Montreal, Quebec. That's in Canada, for those of you who are out of the know ;) Montreal is a city that has been bitten by the Church in the past, and its metropolitan, urban setting makes it one of the more secular places in North America. That being said, our youth group is small, by our standards, but probably sounds infinitesimal compared to some of you guys' ministries haha. We have about ten to fifteen kids. They're the same ones, and they're a super tight group, but yeah, things are small, and that's the flock that God has given us to tend! They're amazing, and we've been so blessed to get to lead them and build real, meaningful relationships with them in a setting that encourages them to go deeper into their relationships with God and with each other.
With such a small group, and with my having actually been a member of the group until a couple of years ago, my philosophy of leadership has always been to be as self-sacrificing as possible and to try really hard to foster deep, personal relationships with the people I'm leading. It's always been my belief that if we are close with the people we work with, that enables us to lead them in a greater capacity and also has the added bonus of making things even more fun. However, and this is where I start to answer Carl's question, it also leaves us open to some snares and pitfalls, and only in the last little while have I been able to figure out how to work around those and what was missing from my ministry.

The problem with a relationship-based approach to ministry is professionalism. It's really hard to seem like you're being a professional when the teens see you as a friend more than they see you as a leader. It's also hard to lead when that happens, because they start to see you as a peer and those who feel so inclined will treat you as one and ignore your given authority. It also leaves you open to forgetting that you are their leader, and actually starting to feel and act like you are another of their peers. That's a dangerous road to go down haha.

That being said, if there was one thing I'd change about the way I have lead my youth ministry, it would be adding a little bit more professionalism to my leadership. I still think it's super important to build meaningful relationships with the teens, but it's equally important to establish that line between "bro" and "leader who you get along with really well."

I'm going to leave you with some scripture to consider (I know, I've been talking for awhile haha)- I recently came across a passage that I think is a really fantastic guideline for people leading ministries to follow. The passage is 1 Timothy 3. This is a great list of qualities to adhere to as much as possible, and since I found it I have been trying to push myself into it more and more.

Anyways, that's all I've got for today! Thanks for much for reading, check out my blog, follow me on Twitter @tomzalatnai and make sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series!


Thomas Zalatnai
Co-Coordinator Emmaus Youth Group

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