I have been working in youth ministry in the local church, camps and campus ministry for over 30 years, but when I started, no one told me about the risks involved with working with youth. The risks I am about share with you, I discovered on my own.
Risks of Youth Ministry should be a college course for every youth ministry major. If I were teaching this course, here’s what I would share with you over nine weeks.
No one cares about your future, but you.
No one is going to help you develop a life plan with goals, etc. Not your pastors, not the congregation and certainly not your students. No one is going to tell you how many years you should stay in youth ministry, when to quit, how to invest your money, or how to retire if you do decide to stay in youth ministry long term. You have to come in with the plan. You have to be self-aware about what you’re getting into and you must take control of your life on day one. No one is coming to save you but you, plan wisely.
Your expectations will not be met
Whatever you think the church is, toss it out and go read Paul’s letter and you’ll see that the church has not changed much. Don’t romanticize your role or the role of the church because most day will not matchup to what you think it should be. Jesus gives you fair expectations “In this life you will have trouble.” and he gives you hope, “”But I have overcome the world” Stay positive but have reasonable expectation.
Youth Ministry is addicting
If you love results, like I do, then when you see the results of your hard work you will keep doing it. The praise you receive for doing it will keep you doing it. Even when things go bad you remember the good things and pray for success like that time. The reasons you are doin youth ministry in the first place can become blurred. Feeding your ego becomes a priority rather than disciplining students even if there if you do not achieve numeric growth.
Parents will turn on you
When you start, almost everyone will love you because they do not have to do your job or the people doing your job do not have to do it anymore. The first time you change the program, discipline a student or preach something controversial you will get a call, an e-mail or a text of a parent sharing their displeasure. Parents care about just their kids not the ten or twenty others, just theirs and if something is not working out for their kids, it’s your fault.
Teens will bail on you
And it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been there. Teens are fickle. Any number of things may tick them off, like, I don’t now, the truth. It could be that you’re too liberal, too conservative, too young, too old, too funny or too hip and cool, and they could bounce. My advice, do not change for them. Be you and student who love you for you will stay. Let the others roll out.
The spiritual warfare is fierce
This goes or for all ministry, not just youth ministry. You are entering an arena of personal relationships, opinions, systems, politics, sin, temptation and hypocrisy, yep, just like the early church. Nothing has changed. You better have a prayer life going in or one will come out of sheer survival mode. People are not your enemy so do not treat them as such. These are the people God has brought you to so embrace them as Jesus embraced Judas.
Your senior pastor is not in charge of your spiritual development
You are. The risk here is that you think your pastor has a responsibility to mentor you, educate you, etc. Most pastors do not share this responsibility. They hired you to do a job, that’s it. Anything that grows out of that is gravy. Do not expect your pastor or the church to do for you what you should do for yourself. If you’re looking for a place to grow, in community you can check our My Monthly Mentor.
Your motives will be suspect
Whatever you learn in college, no matter how old you are, you will be seen as competition. Maybe you’ll be seen as competition for a parents love or as a threat to the pastor because “you’re such a good speaker”. Keep your heart pure and your motives will be pure but that does not mean you will not have to explain them. You do not get a pass.
The church will break your heart
Over and over again. Your heart will be broken for many things lost kids, a church that “doesn’t work”, betrayal, lack of faith, the lack of urgency, a focus on politics rather than the gospel and the list goes on and on. Jesus experienced all of this and more so if you think you are exempt, you’re in for a surprise. The whole goal is that you become more like Jesus and God uses everything, good and bad to make that happen. If you are not interested in brokenness, stay out of youth ministry.
I’m not trying to talk you out of becoming a youth pastor, but if I have, you probably weren’t meant to be one or at least not one as a career and that’s ok.
And, by the way, I’m not a cynic, I have simply grown to embody “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16, KJV).
If you want to hear my heart, check out my podcast, Youth Ministry in Motion.
You’ll do it the rest of your life
This is the biggest risk of all.
Yes, you’ll become like me, a lifer. You’ll want to do it until your wheels fall off, but you’ll need help to do that. If you think this might be you, it’s time to think long term. I want equip you with every thing you need to make the journey and further the faith in young people.
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