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COMPLIMENTS MAY BE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN
You've just returned home from a weekend retreat. You settle onto the couch and give thanks for the weekend's success. You're grateful your boss gave you the time off work. You're thankful God used your new truck to transport kids. Not getting reimbursed for the gasoline doesn't even bother you.
Your thoughts turn to the kids in your cabin. You really love them even though they disappeared in the middle of the night to raid the kitchen. You think of Johnny, who had a life-changing experience due in part to your late-night conversations, constant attention, and unending love. You begin to pray for him, but the phone rings, interrupting your prayer.
It's Johnny's mom. You initially think she called to thank you for her son's wonderful weekend. Wrong . Within seconds you learn she called to ask why Johnny didn't return home with all his underwear. She also questions your wisdom in allowing the boys to kill cockroaches with Johnny's aerosol deodorant. Does this sound familiar?
I'm sure you've already discovered the infrequency of praise for your tireless service. To enjoy long-term youth ministry your validation must come from the confidence that God is using you to impact the lives of young people, not from the praise of others.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IS EFFECTIVE YOUTH MINISTRY
Quality youth ministry is built on the foundation of meaningful relationships. Beyond all the hype and flashy programs, it's the relationships with kids that measure an outstanding youth group.
Your relationship with kids will last years longer than the faint memory of your best message. Messages are important, but relationships impact kids more than speeches do. I really wish kids remembered my messages ... but they don't. They remember the time we spent together.
Teenagers need strong relationships with adults. Though few admit it, they desire significant relationships with older people. When your kids feel the love you have for them, they will understand your spoken messages about God's love much better.
Build relationships that will continue beyond graduation. It is exciting to watch kids grow and develop, understanding that part of their maturity came from a relationship that a classroom couldn't offer.
CONGRATULATIONS---YOU'RE A MODEL!
Here's a scary truth: You are constantly communicating a message to the kids you work with. They consciously and unconsciously take note of everything! They watch how you live, how you love the unlovely, how you deal with authority, how you react in difficult situations, how you handle pain, and how you treat your family. They watch because you are a significant adult in their life, and they are looking for answers and direction.
I grew up in a youth ministry with many quality adult leaders. I watched dozens of lessons I've never forgotten. I saw adults love others, give others dignity, and encourage the hurting. These adults didn't need to say, 'Doug, let me teach you a lesson on how to care for people.' Their lifestyles were a continual curriculum to an impressionable mind and heart. So is yours! Remember, young eyes focus on your life.
FULL-TIME YOUTH MINISTRY ISN'T WHAT IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE
A paid ministry position can seem more glamorous than volunteer work. The impression is that full-time youth work is more fun, constantly affirming, and always filled with quality time with students. Not true! A paid position does not necessarily equal effectiveness. You can often have a more worthwhile ministry as a volunteer than in a paid ministry position.
My wife, Cathy, has a great volunteer ministry. When kids want to talk about problems or important life issues, they approach Cathy. She has deep, meaningful conversations with kids. She can spend her ministry time building significant relationships while I'm at the office making flyers, returning phone calls, and digging out from under the administrative piles that come with a paid position.
I've met dozens of ex-volunteers who decided seminary and a career change would make their ministry more effective. Most of them were wrong. They ended up disappointed.
As a volunteer, you're the church's most valued treasure. Unless you're confident of God's calling into full-time ministry, remain a volunteer and allow your present employer to finance your youth work.
LET KIDS KNOW THAT YOU BELIEVE IN THEM
Kids have the power to make a difference in this world. They need to know that. Their growing years are filled with self-doubt. They constantly question their existence. You can empower them with four simple words: 'I believe in you.' These words can transform impressionable adolescents in a world that views them as 'excess baggage.'
Jesus did this with his disciples. He looked beyond their sins and inadequacies and said, 'I believe in you.' That's what he did when he changed Simon's name to Peter, meaning 'rock.' (I'm assuming Peter's friends thought a more appropriate name would be Sandy or Pebbles!) Then Jesus showed that he believed in Peter. Jesus gave him a vital role in establishing the early church. (Check the Book of Acts to see how Peter lived up to Jesus' words.)
Teenagers change when someone believes in them and views them through God's eyes. One day, a female volunteer told Beth that she believed Beth would become a woman of God. At the time, I didn't think much about her comment. But afterwards, Beth told the volunteer that her words became a challenge. That affirmation was a turning point in Beth's life. Beth continues to grow and demonstrate godly qualities. I'm not suggesting that Beth's maturity is solely due to the volunteer's words, but the affirmation gave her strength to pursue a godly lifestyle.