Looking for Youth Workers

We’re losing our longtime youth director in June as he makes the transition to pastoring. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had as we figure out what comes next.

Thinking about Youth Ministry

Why churches hire youth leaders:

  • Availability: Volunteers only have so much availability. They have to make a living and support their families. Churches hire people to free them up to spend more time in ministry.
  • Skills – Sometimes a church needs to acquire skills it does not currently have in the membership. This is another common reason to hire someone. We look for someone who brings skills and abilities we lack.

What we require of youth leaders, whether paid or volunteer:

  • Testimony – Do they know Christ? Are they walking with Jesus?

  • Character – Do they exhibit the virtues we look for in a Christian leader?

  • Accountability – Youth ministry is not done in isolation. Those who lead are accountable to the whole church.

WHAT WE NEED:

Knowledge & Skills: Certain knowledge and skills need to be present in the youth leadership team. In some cases all these might reside in a single person. In other cases different people with different skill sets will work to complement each other.

  • Bible & theology: We’re not merely about entertaining or serving youth. Our youth ministry aims to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples. Our youth need leaders who know the bible well and can teach it in a way that connects with youth. They must also have a basic grasp of Christian theology, not only so they can teach it, but so they can guide the youth in learning to use theological discernment. A youth leader needs to be able to clearly articulate the basics of the Christian faith and the features of Christian experience. The kids will profit greatly from hearing the leader (or leaders) articulate their own journey to and with Christ.

  • Youth Culture: Because American youth are a multi-billion dollar market, business continues to differentiate them from older generations. Thus youth culture is constantly changing. A Christian youth worker must be willing and able to engage intelligently, sympathetically and Christianly with this culture. In some ways this aspect of youth ministry is akin to being a missionary. This is not a ministry for people who don’t like youth.

  • Programming: Youth ministry has a structure, both an organization of people and a coherent set of activities and events that accomplish the work of disciple making and group building. A person with programming skills helps fit together the other components of youth ministry in way that helps draw youth in, holds their attention, coordinates resources (time, space, money, etc.), so that ministry goals can be met. An additional effect of good programming is that parents know what is happening and feel confident about the ministry.

  • Leadership: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” When this maxim is combined with the general difficulty of finding volunteers, its not surprising that many youth ministry people are lone rangers. We need a key leader with the ability to draw other adults into the ministry, and equip them with the needed skills. The leader does not need to have all these skills or do all the training personally, but needs to know what is available and connect recruits with learning tools and opportunities. Leadership in youth ministry includes more than running youth meetings and going places. It includes building a team of adults and youth who will join in the ministry. The ministry is too big, too important, to taxing for any one person, however gifted, to do alone. Team building includes the elements of Recruiting leaders, Training leaders, Deploying leaders, and Evaluating leaders.

  • Counseling: The teenage years are times of great change, opportunity and confusion. Our current infatuation with moral relativism does not help. We need youth leaders who are wise and able to give godly counsel to youth. In the vast majority of cases this counseling will not be on the level of requiring professional training. The leader’s lifestyle must exhibit moral integrity and Christian character so the counsel they give will have credibility.

  • Communications: Youth ministry requires frequent and redundant communication with youth, parents and the church. Leaders will need to be able to use phone, email, snail mail, newsletters, etc. to communicate. Good parents really like to know where their kids are and what they’re doing.

These practices are required for a healthy youth ministry:

  • Coordination. Whether the ministry is led by a hired staff person or a group of volunteers, multiple adults will be needed to pull it off. At the very least our Safe Sanctuary Policy mandates two adults with every group. For the sake of effectiveness, we need a variety of adults who will live Christ before the kids so they can see what the Christian life looks like in a variety of personality types. The work of coordination asks questions like: Who will be teaching Sunday school (for the next term, and this Sunday)? Who will be driving to this event? How will we get the supplies we need?

  • Communication: Leaders will need to communicate vision, plans, and news to youth, parents, the church, and the community. This communication lets people know what is happening and also raises support for the ministry.

  • Spiritual Disciplines: By their own lifestyle leaders will model spiritual disciplines. They will each (this cannot be divvied up) engage in bible study, prayer, worship, and other disciplines, training youth in using them also. One consequence of practicing spiritual disciplines will be spiritual discipline – the ability to say Yes and No in accordance with Jesus.

  • Planning: Youth ministry requires both short term and long term planning. Do we know where we’re going? Do we know how we’re going to get there? Planning also includes evaluation – answering the age old question, “Are we there yet?”

  • Teaching: Youth need teaching. They need not only the teaching of details and facts from the bible and the Christian faith, but also practical training in leading a Christian life: How to pray, How to love people like Jesus loved, How to study the bible, How to witness, etc.. Forty minutes of Sunday school a week is not sufficient to teach youth what they need.

  • Wise use of resources: There are never enough resources to do everything we can think of doing in youth ministry. We need leaders who understand how a church budget works and who have the ability to identify and deploy other resources from within the congregation and community. Youth events often happen off site. Your leaders need to be able to plan and coordinate appropriate transportation, food and accommodation. Providing these things is surely beyond the capacity of an individual.

  • Evangelism: A big part of youth ministry is helping kids become followers of Jesus. We cannot assume that just because a kid comes from a Christian family or is in church every Sunday (or is a Church member) that he or she has become a follower of Jesus. They need to learn enough of the faith to respond to God’s invitation. They need loving provocation to take steps of faith. They need role models who will show them what a life of faith looks like. They need people who will answer their questions intelligently, honestly, and in accord with the Christian tradition. Since youth are highly skilled at asking questions we’ve never considered, youth leaders must always be learning. Knowing everything is not a requirement for being a youth leader. Being willing to learn is. The work of evangelism in youth ministry extends beyond the church. We want a youth ministry that will reach beyond our church kids to kids in the community who are not now attached to a church. This requires time spent where the kids are.

  • Punctuality: Timeliness sometimes seems to be out of favor in our culture. Nonetheless, we need leaders who are on time, whether in their attendance at meetings and events, but also in their communication.

  • Dependability: We need leaders that can be counted on. We need people who will keep their word and do their job. While expected of people in paid positions, this is not too much to expect of volunteers.

  • Resourcefulness and Flexibility: Youth ministry is hard work – harder now than it was ten years ago. Leaders need to stay deep in prayer, keep a sense of humor, and surround themselves with support.

Leaders of youth ministry, just as leaders in any other area, need certain general qualifications, particularly with relation to the church.

  • Loyalty: We need leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to the church by regular attendance and participation in worship and other ministries. Youth ministry is part of the general ministry of the church and not something that simply exists on its own.

  • Ability to work with people: Because youth ministry is part of the total ministry of the church, youth leaders must be able to work well with others in the church, including both the staff and volunteer leaders.

  • Commitment to the church’s mission: We want leaders who are committed to the mission of the church. While they will stamp the ministry with the flavor of their own personality and style, the goals they pursue will fit with the mission of bringing people to faith in Christ, helping them grow as disciples, and equipping them for ministry.

  • Attitude: We need leaders with a healthy attitude. While having a positive attitude – toward the church, youth, and life in general – is essential, this does not mean that we want people with fake smiles pasted on their faces. The kind of positive attitude we look for is rooted in faith in Jesus, not mere optimism or positive thinking. The Christian life and ministry can be very difficult. We follow a crucified savior who calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. Yet we also read in scripture that he did it for the joy set before him. A person with a truly positive Christian attitude will not shy away from the truth, but will continually speak the truth in love, with a goal of building people up and forwarding the ministry of the church.

 

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4 Responses to Looking for Youth Workers

  1. Carroll says:

    Richard,
    This just wows me!!!! I do not see how we can find anyone who can fit into all of the requirements. We will try and probably fail but we should come as close as we can. I am all for the guidelines that you have put forward.
    Carroll

  2. Beverely Jecker says:

    I think Carroll said it all. You did a great job on this.

  3. Donna Morgan says:

    Richard,
    This is a great job description of a youth minister. I agree with the general qualifications and requirements as you have outlined. Personally I believe that everything is possible with God and through prayer He will send us someone that will meet these qualifications.

  4. matt kuehl says:

    Hey steve, this is Matt Kuehl. I was the youth minister for 4 years out at Lorena United Methodist. Where are you pastoring now?? Last I heard you were at Mcgregor. I’m sure you guys have got a youth minister already. I am spending a little time out of ministry and getting fed for a little while, being a part of “the flock.” I guess I was wondering about your youth director situation; know that I am still at baylor and will be graduating december 07.

    God Bless!
    Matt

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