I was talking with a very faithful, loving parent the other day, a parent whose faith journey I admire and whose opinion I greatly respect. I asked her, “If you could say one thing to the people at your church who work in youth ministry, what would it be?” Knowing that she comes from a faith tradition thoroughly steeped in the scriptures, I could have guessed her immediate, split-second, purest answer… “No surprise here - teach them the Word!” she said. But she didn’t stop there. Her thoughts began to flow… “And somehow keep the parents involved. They don’t expect the youth minister to do it all.” Her thoughts continued to flow, and even as she moved into her busy day, she left a trail of thought breadcrumbs, all leading back to the heart of her understanding - the study of scripture, falling in love with God, and the rest falling into place. What a wise, wonderful woman...
Youth Ministry Can Be a Lonely Place
My thoughts kept going back to my friend’s comment about the interest of parents… because most of us in youth ministry, at one point or another, find ourselves in a desolate lonely place. It’s not that we feel that God has disappeared from the face of the earth or that God has somehow forsaken us, but sometimes it’s just hard to SEE God, hard to FIND God when we are surrounded by the chaos, the clamor, and the busy-ness of youth ministry. Even the most intentional youth ministers, who take great care to nurture their spiritual health and their relationship with God, can easily find themselves in the desert, particularly if they are not finding the trenches full of others ready to venture into the fray alongside them. It’s in those very alone moments that we cry out for rescue and wonder why in the world we decided to do this in the first place.
You Are Not Alone: Let Partnerships Provide a Web of Support
If you find yourself in the desert place and are thinking that no one else cares, that no one else is willing to take up the fight, it’s time to reclaim some important partnerships that are available to you in the everyday life of ministry. These partnerships provide a web of support to youth ministers who take the time to cultivate them.
Start with your pastor. Sure, some pastors just want to make sure that kids are safe and that the youth minister isn’t an idiot, or they just want to make sure that you aren’t aggravating the church “hornets.” But the vast majority really want their youth ministers to succeed and will go to great lengths to help them do so - helping them to formulate plans for discipling young people and making an investment of their own time into the youth ministry. But you may need to initiate the steps to cultivate this partnership - like working to schedule an appointment in the pastor’s busy schedule or preparing a vision document to bring the pastor on board with what you are hoping to do in your ministry.
Don’t be intimidated by parents. They have the highest amount of vested interest in the effectiveness of your youth ministry. While they may not understand all there is to know about youth ministry, they truly want your work to thrive - they want to know that their kids are getting exposure to scripture, that they are learning the things of God, that they are learning what it means to love Jesus, and that the rest is falling into place. And as my friend mentioned, though it’s not true in every case, many of those parents are willing to give of their own time in helping those things to happen. Unfortunately, we often haven’t identified the ways that they can help or given the ones who are ready the tools that they need in order to do the job.
Tell the story in your congregation. Your whole congregation wants to walk alongside your ministry, but you will most likely need to make sure they are hearing the story. Find ways to get the word out - church newsletters, youth in worship telling the story of a significant moment, intergenerational settings, etc. Invite your congregation to pray for specific events or needs. Enlist their help in special projects. They want to help!
Recruit a team of prayer warriors. If your church doesn’t already have a prayer team, start one! Don’t underestimate the power of prayer undergirding what you are doing! And don’t be afraid to ask for prayer just for you. Even if you spend time in the desert place, even if you feel like you are failing somehow, you will always know that this prayer team will have your back. And they will remind you of the God who rescues us from the loneliest of places.
Bring together a group of ministry friends. That can be for ministry development, or it can be just to take a break together. Like-minded friends often understand better than anyone else.
Draw on professional resources. Books, conferences, seminars, consultants, and coaches can provide professional knowledge, counsel, and advice. Search the web or consult others that you trust for the most helpful of resources.
God wants to help you weave this web of support for your youth ministry. You are not alone! And if it feels like it, it doesn’t have to feel that way. The God who rescues from lonely places wants to guide you to something better and more fruitful ministry. Take steps this week in weaving that web that will undergird your work and your life.