My husband and I had the privilege of being Youth Pastors for almost a decade. Every Friday night was spent hanging with teenagers, talking about God, eating Maccas and vacuuming floors. I genuinely loved it! Like legit, adored every teenager God entrusted to us and think we did a lot right and left an impact on many. But in retrospect, there's so much I'd do differently. I guess that's the beauty of hindsight, it all seems so clear when you're looking back in the rearview mirror. Sadly, I can't go back and change the past, but maybe you can go froward and apply this to your future? So to every Youth Pastor or youth leader, here are 8 things I'd do differently if I were in Youth ministry again. Shout out to a few good friends who contributed - Jason Mendis, Fred Porter, Isaiah Simmons, Tayla Bull, Josh Douglas, Dave Edgar, Jono Deal, Chad Harding and Ben Peters. Some of them have been in ministry for decades, others are still Youth Pastors today. It's a minefield of authentic confessions, honest truths and divine revelations. Be blessed.
1. I'd focus more on building big people, than building a big youth ministry.
"I remember when I was a young Youth Pastor I would be so anxious leading up to a Friday night, thinking no one was going to show up. The older I've gotten the more I've realised the goal isn't to build a big youth ministry, but to build big people. I don't just wanna run big events, I want to build committed, strong disciples that influence thousands. If I could tell you one thing it'd be - build the right big. Focus on building people." - Isaiah Simmons, Public Church, the Gold Coast.
"If I had my time again, I'd worry less about attendance and culture, and just do everything to help people fall in love with God. I'd be even more encouraging. In a world where young people feel like labels define them, I'd bring more words of life and speak words of destiny over individuals. I'm certain they'd remember that more than any song, game, or tribal war! I'd also tried to reach out to parents more. Youth ministry is not just about the teenagers, it’s about impacting families and generations for God". - Chad Harding (Former Youth Pastor Planetshakers)
2. I'd stop TRYING TO entertain teenagers, and start empowering them to be passionate disciples.
You're not there to entertain teenagers, you're there to empower them to take up their cross, make Jesus the Lord of their life (not just their Saviour) and help them to step into their destiny. Teenagers need to encounter Him, not just play games. Yes have fun (have a lot of it), laugh, create life long memories and friendships. But make it a priority to go after the presence of God, the power of God, the fire of God. The world offers entertainment, it offers fun, it offers short term satisfaction. The only thing that we can give, that is different (and every person actually needs) is a real encounter with a living God.
"The "boring stuff" still works. I think for a while I thought I needed a big budget, the world’s most epic tribe war etc. But actually, the bible, prayer, encounter with the Holy Spirit is more than enough. I love games, food vans, DJ’s, whatever. But it’s all just platforms leading to something better. It’s all got to lead to Him." - Fred Porter, Kingdomculture Church, Brisbane.
3. I'd encourage teenagers to read their bibles and seek God personally.
I spent many years trying not to preach sermons that pressured teenagers to read their bibles. I can recall one conversation that left an inedible mark on me. In passing a prominent minister casually said to me, "You can pretty much boil every sermon down to - read the bible more, and pray more." Sadly my take home from that exchange was, "Oh gosh I better make sure I don't do that!". If I had my time over I would shout it from the roof tops, young person read your bible! Not to please god, but to know Him! I would 100% encourage teenagers to not just read their bibles, but to seek after God personally and privately. Because when they do that they'll actually develop a personal faith, a strong faith, an enduring faith.
P.S If you want your youth ministry to be keep growing, you need to keep growing. Seek God yourself. And not just for a sermon, but for an encounter. Your habits and convictions will inevitably set the culture in your youth ministry. You can't take your teenagers to a place you've never been. So never stop pursuing the presence of God yourself. You're a Christian, before you're a Pastor.
4. I'd love the one, more than I love the crowd.
Jesus always goes after the one. He leaves the 99 to go after the one. Our focus should always be on the one - not the crowd. Our heart should always be to love and nurture young people. Because that's the heart of God. God’s number one priority will always be people, and His mode to reach and restore them will always be grace, acceptance, kindness and compassion. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have LOVE, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have LOVE, I am nothing. It doesn’t matter if you preach to thousands or reach millions through your “ministry.” If you don’t truly love people, you’ve lost sight of what really matters (And when I say “you” I really mean “me”). I think for the most part I did this well, my preference has always been to sit one on one with a young person and make them feel seen and heard, but there were still times I was more consumed with the program and how many kids were there on a Friday night, than the young person in front of me needing just one person to say, "I see you, you're not alone".
"My one piece of advice - spend less time worrying about numbers, and more time caring for people." Jono Deal, Kingdomcity Perth
5. I'd connect teenagers to the Church, not just Friday night.
Youth Ministry isn’t the body of Christ, it’s a part of the body of Christ. In fact it’s more like a foyer to the body. It’s a huge entrance way into God’s kingdom. We need to get young people connected into the house of God. You are not a youth leader that who goes to a Church. You are a leader who happens to be in youth. If you don’t see teenagers connected to the house of God after youth, you’ve only done half the job. Prioritise Sundays and all the others avenues your Church has to disciple young people. - Ben Peters, Kingdomcity Perth
"I’d also celebrate more of what was happening outside of the youth ministry. For example teenagers sharing their faith in schools, teens praying for each other in their houses. Change starts on a Friday night, but it's not meant to stay there." Tayla Bull, Former Youth Pastor METRO Church Gold Coast
6. I'd focus on what's important
"Probably the biggest thing I would do differently is hone my focus. I think I spent a lot of time with my headspace in other things - like preaching away and outside commitments. It took my time and attention away from our youth ministry and our young people. Breakthrough comes as a result of consistently hitting the same area over and over again. It’s like a hose - when you twist the nozzle and it sprays everywhere it covers a wide area, but if I twist the nozzle and focus the water it actually can do some damage - we probably missed some breakthrough moments because my focus was too wide spread."
- Jason Mendis, Petersham AOG
Never stop sowing. Today's planting is tomorrow’s harvest. If you stopped investing into what's important 6 months ago, the cracks will start to show today. Keep investing into your leaders; keep spending time with teens and chasing after God. If you want to keep your team healthy for the long haul, invest into them today. Never forget, even if you have fruit now, don't stop sowing. - David Edgar, Faith Christian Church, Melbourne.
7. I'd stop trying to find my identity in what I do, but who I am.
It's easy to confuse who we are, with what you do. It's not. Don't be fooled. Ministry is stewardship, not ownership. For me, personally, one of the biggest lessons I've learnt in Youth Ministry is you have to find your identity in who God says you are, and not what you do. You can't be attached to your title, your position or your role. Because if you lose that, your whole world will fall apart.
It's so important to stay in your lane, to stop looking sideways and comparing yourself to what other people are doing. Just be you. Be secure in who God has called you to be. Early on in Youth ministry I would doubt myself and do things that just weren't me. I would second guess my decisions and didn't step up and lead with confidence and clarity. It wasn't until I became secure in who God made me to be, and confident that he could use me that God he began to unlock dreams, passion and authority in my life. Joshua Douglas, Glow Church, the Gold Coast
8. I'd Start with the end in mind.
"You've always gotta be thinking, "How are these kids gonna make it without me?" If they can't, then you're doing it wrong. You need to connect them to Jesus, to the Church and to each other. Most Youth Pastors realistically don't stay in youth ministry for more than a few years. So think about that. You're only leading these kids for a short time. Don't lead them to yourself. Lead them to Jesus. There's no success, without succession" - Ben Peters, Kingdomcity
The truth is - People don’t really need me. They don't really need you. They need the God in you. The God in me. At the end of the day we as people are so limited. Limited by our time, our wisdom, our flaws, our capacity to love. But God is limitless, and His love and capacity endless. His peace. His presence. His wholeness. His strength. Our lives were never meant to attract people to us, but God in us, the hope of glory. Dear youth pastor, your job is take a young person by the hand, walk them a while, and join their hand to God. Start with end in mind. Make disciples, not decisions.
To every Youth Pastor or leader reading this. THANK YOU! Thank you for the countless hours of stacking chairs, planning camps, prepping sermons and driving kids home late at night. Your sacrifice may not be seen by man, but it's seen by God. You may not see the fruit right now, but every seed counts and every life matters. Keep going, keep sowing. You're making a difference in this life, and the next. Praying for you! Believing with you and championing you on! x