I decided this was the day. The day I would get rid of all that old youth ministry stuff that I have collected for 20 years. It was time to say goodbye to 17 (yes 17) binders of information, forms, messages, and other youth ministry trinkets. It was fun back then, but I don’t live there anymore and neither do the students I minister to today. Heck, the world I lived in does not exist today.

As I sifted though through binders and folders I found typed, yes typed, like on a type writer, messages and forms.  I caught the title of a few , flashed a grin back at them, and in the trash it went. I was merciless. But why so brutal?

As a 44 year old youth pastor I have been able to watch the evolution of student ministry as did those before me witnessed. The past is funny thing, it can comfort you and it can kill you all at the same time. I had to make peace with  the past before it became the enemy of my future. Here are three ways we can make peace and move on to the future God has for us.

Make peace with your past successes

Good is enemy of the best. Past successes are great, but our kids don’t care about those. As much as we try to tell them, “Hey!  I’ve been around!” They just want to know that we care about them, right now. Think about those kids, student leaders, etc. from your past that you treasure in your heart. You worked to get there. You put the time in. Don’t look back and ask why you can’t have that again. Get back to work. Put in the time and three years you’ll have what you want, again.

Make peace with your past messages

We can look back and see all the cool messages we preached, the great illustrations, and some may even be timeless and reusable, but don’t give in to that temptation to bring them back. Messages can be tiny idols we keep in our pocket and while Moses turns his back we pull them out and dance around them. I avoid certain weeks of camp because I know certain speakers will pull a message out of their Summer Messages folder and pretend it’s new. It’s sad. Let’s get on our knees once again and ask God for fresh bread that He has already baked for us.

Make peace with your past programming

The old adage “If you continue to do what you have always done, you will always have what you’ve always had” is true. I have tried to pull old tricks out of my hat in every ministry I have had and I have had to eat dirt every time. Kids know when we are trying to sell them on something we used to do. I think students think it’s insulting. We can get offended when kids baulk at our idea or we can recognize that these kids don’t want to be treated like our old youth group. Embrace who they are and change your style to fit them.

**Note: I am talking about pre-set programs not principles. Principles are transferrable some programs are.

I cleared my physical shelves and my metaphorical shelves. I made room for new successes, new messages, new revelations, and new ideas for reaching kids for Christ. Come along aged warriors, remember the past and smile, but look to the future and rejoice. Our best days are ahead.


Did I miss anything? Are you over 40 and found that you had to make peace with something like education, old wounds, etc. What else could we add to this list?

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  1. Paul,

    Thanks. Yeah, I have to make peace with my past programming all the time, and am trying to do so even more this year. I have to make peace with past students who “succeeded” and those who seemed to “fail” in my ministry. So often, kids have grown up and done amazing things for the kingdom long after leaving my ministry, when I had little hope for them while they were students. I have to make peace with the fact that who I thought I was going to be when I was 25 isn’t who I am today. Back then I thought being a famous pastor at a famous church in a famous city with famous books would be a sign of God’s blessings. I’m at peace with the fact that was wrong. But there are days I have to redo that peace making process when I wonder and question about where I am. I have to make peace with being a dad, and not being the cool one running around all the time.

    I appreciate the post. It’s well written and true. Me encouragement to anyone under 40 reading it, be completely who God has you to be right now, today. It’s all we called to be and do; just follow Jesus in the now. That’s it.

    Thanks Paul. I love it.

  2. Great insight about cleaning out. One thing I have noticed though in youth ministry in 2020’s is that teens enjoy the annual event too. Events like the Fall Retreat or annual “whatever”. By only doing something once a year and doing it well, teens look forward to that event. It may run it’s course in a couple of years, so keep check on that, but it may last for years, with some different and current programming.
    I asked my daughter about this phenomenon (because I cut my teeth on bigger and better youth ministry programming-I’m 61), and she said it may be tied to the destruction of the family and extended family. Families don’t have deep traditions like they used to and so maybe the youth ministry brings that need for stable traditions into that teens life. No real research here, just an observation.

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