Wow! It is crazy to think I have been doing youth ministry for over a decade now. When I first volunteered to lead a small group 11 years ago I had no idea what God was going to do with my life. Over the years I have had some great moments in ministry, some okay moments, and to be quite honest, some pretty dumb ones. I have made some stupid decisions over the years, and the longer I am in ministry, the more I realize how dumb I was in my earlier years.
The good news is that if you stick around long enough in ministry, you will have time to learn from and correct your mistakes. Here are 5 mistakes I have made in youth ministry over the years. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and avoid these pitfalls:
1. Believing I could do it on my own
I was at a smaller church, ambitious, had tons of energy, failure never even crossed my mind, and I was certain I could do everything on my own. My wife and I actually could handle all of the programming needs ourselves and this just propelled my thinking that I could do it on my own. But doing ministry with others goes far beyond just the planning, speaking, and running the games. Where I fell short was in robbing my students of the chance to connect with other caring adults. I couldn’t connect with every student, some students and I just did not click but they probably would have clicked with other adults. Adult leaders are essential to youth ministry. Not only will the programming improve from what you can do on your own, but you can’t reach everyone alone. Build a team!
2. Not empowering students to lead
For far too long I believed students were simply the recipients of ministry instead of understanding they were the ones who needed to be doing the ministry. I have to check myself often to make sure I am not simply teaching students but rather training and equipping them to be leaders who do ministry in and outside of the church. It is famously said that good leaders don’t make more followers, but rather make more leaders. Don’t just do ministry to students, empower them to do ministry and become leaders.
3. Dropping students after graduation
For most of my ministry I never even gave a thought to post-graduation follow-ups. The students I continued to have influence over and a relationship with after graduation just happened, and the ones who slipped away just happened as well. I invested in these students for years and then when they graduated, it was like my ministry with them was over. Sure, I texted a few students here and there to see how they were doing but I had no plan and because of that, I have let down many, many students over the years. We must develop a plan for continued ministry to students after they graduate and move away to college. The relational investments made over their time in your ministry are just reaching maturity and need to be fostered and cared for in their early college years.
4. Not partnering with parents
Parents are an essential part of the ministry and a part I have not always taken advantage of. Honestly, I admit I could still be better when it comes to partnering with parents. Sometimes parents are hard to deal with and so we put up walls, hold stigmas and stereotypes closely, and often fail to take advantage of a partnership with them. Parents can be your best allies, cheerleaders, mouthpieces, volunteers, and sometimes friends. Make partnering with parents a priority and wins will be more easily achieved.
5. Prioritizing my ministry over my relationship with Jesus
Ministry is busy! Over the last 11 years I have poured so much of my life into building ministries and hoping and praying with every fiber of my being that they are successful. I sometimes become borderline obsessed and often make my ministry my main priority in life. All of my time, energy, and effort goes into my ministry and then I remember, ‘oh yea, I have a family and they need to be a priority as well.’ So, I pour into my family and my ministry and I am exhausted and burnt out. But what was left out? My relationship with Jesus. Way more than I care to admit, and not just ‘when I first started in ministry,’ I prioritize my ministry over my relationship with Jesus and it is a problem. Our personal relationship with Jesus must be our number one priority and we must fight to keep it in the number one spot.
Ministry is hard; especially youth ministry. You will make mistakes, let yourself learn from them! I have learned so much over my time in ministry so far and I know in ten years I will look back to now and shake my head over things I haven’t learned yet. I hope that sharing the mistakes I have made over the last decade can help you avoid making them as well.
Todd has been in youth ministry for over a decade and has a passion for reaching lost students and training youth workers to do the same. He is the founder of Stoked On Youth Ministry, a speaker, author, and pastor. When Todd is not writing or speaking he enjoys surfing, baseball and most importantly hanging out with his awesome wife and three beautiful daughters. You can connect with Todd on Twitter @TheTodd_Jones, Instagram @Todd_Jones or for speaking inquiries visit TheToddJones.com