Post Author: Askie
I’m a recent seminary graduate, and still looking for my first call. I know I want to serve as an assistant minster for a few years, but the reality of my denomination is that most churches that can afford to call an assistant are looking for a youth pastor. I think I’m the only young clergy woman who didn’t grow up actively participating in a youth group, or ever working as a camp counselor or youth minister before seminary. I’ve never worked with youth in this formal sense, but I am feeling God pulling me towards one of these positions, and want to be as prepared as possible. Any advice?
Accidental Energizer (and what’s an Energizer?)
In what has become Askie’s motto: you are not the only one.
Plenty of us grew up without Vacation Bible School or Sunday night youth groups with catchy names that no one can remember the story behind, and still managed to be faithful Christians and discern a call to ministry. You are also not the only one to be faced with a first call that is outside of your areas of comfort and expertise.
It can feel from the outside like the youth ministers of the world were all formed in their mother’s wombs with an innate knowledge of the latest and best Sunday School curricula and 101 hilarious games to play with kids in groups settings to teach them about teamwork. And, those amongst us who have served in this role should admit that when we work with kids, we tend to act a little like kids, so infiltrating a clique of youth minsters who already know each other, whether at a conference or denominational event, can feel like middle school all over again. Sorry about that.
Askie found herself an accidental youth pastor in the early days. For better or for worse, many hiring committees see an ordained young woman and immediately think of youth ministry, regardless of our experience or resumes, and Askie found herself sometimes into the second or third round of interviews for a position described as “Associate for Spiritual and Pastoral Care” or “Missioner for Christian Formation” before finding out she was in fact interviewing to be a traditional youth pastor. This sort of job description sleight of hand does an injustice to ministry with youth, and to those who feel truly called to minister primarily with children and teenagers, but that is another article for another day (alongside a discussion of what churches say they value versus where they put their resources.) Askie consulted a panel of experts for advice about how to help you start out from a good place in your new call, and presents:
The Top Ten Tips for Youth Ministry
1. Learn what an Energizer is, and keep a few in your pocket for when you are gathering a group of sugar-fueled, hormone-rocked kids in a room together and you need to get some instant focus. Also known as icebreakers, team building exercises, or warm ups, these are brief games or activities, usually a little physical, to get a group talking to and comfortable with each other. Google away, there are millions of them out there. You will find yourself using them with adults when you are the leader of your denomination one day.
2. Though this may not be the work you thought you’d be doing right now, youth ministry is some of the most rewarding (and fun) work you can do for God. Sometimes you won’t realize this until a few years in, when you see your first active kids going off to/coming home from college, and realize that they have become faithful adults you respect and admire. You were part of the cloud of witnesses that helped that happen.
3. The unofficial motto of the exhausted youth pastor is: My job would be perfect if it wasn’t for the parents. Try from the beginning to build a support network for yourself of senior clergy on staff, parents, and volunteers. Like any other ministry position, you will figure out pretty quickly who you work well with and can trust, so make sure you have some of those folks in your corner for when parents act badly, or you just need advice.
4. If your seminary training was like most, you learned so much about how to safeguard God’s children and keep church safe and what it means to be a mandatory reporter that you may be afraid to get within side-hugging distance of anyone under 30. Fight that fear, establish good boundaries, and treasure it when a young person comes to you as a safe adult in their lives to talk about hard things.
5. Go ahead and learn how to drive a van.
6. But don’t learn how to play a guitar if you don’t want to. No matter what sort of worship tradition you are working in, there is always a place for the kids who are interested in music to make it themselves, and this can be the first time youth have been given ownership of making worship happen. Invite your young people to be companions in creating worship services through their own music, art, and creativity- and if you come from a liturgical tradition, try to get off your high horse and enjoy this chance to have your boundaries pushed and expanded. It will make you a better pastor or priest.
7. At some point you will find yourself sleeping in a room full of twenty wooden bunk beds with thin mattresses, deathly afraid that there are bedbugs, with the knowledge that you have to shower while wearing shoes in a communal bathroom, and you will have an existential crisis about how you have come to be at this place in your adult life. Get over it, quiet that voice in your head that says successful grown ups don’t carry lice combs at work, and think of this as preparing you for the epic trip you will one day take in developing nations of the Global South and Far East. A hostel in Vietnam has nothing on the average youth mission trip. But do invest in some good shower shoes.
8. Be a colleague to other youth ministers, and create a support group for yourself outside of your church. Like any parochial ministry, the folks who get themselves into bad situations are usually the ones who are determined to do everything by themselves. Having an active colleague group will give you a safe place to process and complain about the hard parts of your job with other professionals who understand, while also helping you learn and grow as a minister.
9. From the beginning, advocate strongly for yourself when it comes to your salary, vacation time, benefits. You are a pastor just like the senior pastor, your work is just done with another congregation within your church, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking your work is somehow less important. It doesn’t have to be a competition, but you could argue that your work is in fact more important since you are helping form future leaders for churches that are often shrinking. It is hard, but embody your authority given in ordination, and don’t let the church budget be balanced on your back.
10. Even at 12 or 13, youth have already had incredibly rich (and often painful) lives. Don’t dumb down the Gospel; they’re already hungry for it. And let them tell their story because God has already been fully at work in their lives.
Askie and her panel of experts is praying for you as you undertake this beautiful, crazy, fun, and heart-breaking-open ministry. Though stepping into this realm of youth pastoring might make you feel like a kid going to summer camp for the first time, the memories you make will be the ones you cherish for your entire life as a clergy woman. Even the gross ones.