Wow! Talk about your huge questions! I just received that exact question in an email. Well, actually, he asked…
Can you please give me your best advice on how to become the best youth pastor possible? The students deserve the best and so I want to give it to them. Even if you just want to give me a Top 10 list of books that would help me, that would be helpful.
Trent, Wow, how to summarize youth ministry… in one email. That’s a big question. I’ll simplify it to three vital practices and then link a bunch of helpful reading as requested.
3 Vital Practices for Today’s Youth Workers:
1. Staying connected to God and his people so that you aren’t empty
This might seem like a no brainer… but I can give you countless examples of people in ministry who didn’t “fill their tanks” and ended up running on empty. Think of Jesus talking to his people in John 15- the vine and the branches. Connect with him and live. Disconnect and die. Pretty blunt. Very true. Read Psalm 1. The tree planted by the stream thrives because it has all it needs. Be that tree. Plant yourself in a place where you are being fed (receiving good teaching- if not at your own church then supplement by listening to a Tim Keller podcast or another good teacher that feeds you), being mentored (find a Godly man who can build into you), and making it a priority to connect to Jesus on your own (reading through your Bible in a year, attending a Bible study OTHER than youth ministry, making times of reading and solitude a priority.).
Further reading about this:
2. Know where you want to go, and make sure you’re doing the work that gets you there
This is all about purpose and vision—knowing your purpose and the tasks to achieve that. Whenever I teach this, I keep it simple. I teach that everything we do in ministry is either OUTREACH or DISCIPLESHIP. Then I talk about how to do both. Here’s a quick YouTube video we made that covers that thoroughly… in fact…take notes. It’s A LOT of meat in just a few minutes.
This is a HUGE category and people will have all kinds of theories about what our purpose should be and how to do it… and many will disagree. My quick thoughts are to never let PROGRAM trump PEOPLE. In other words, don’t get so focused on your Wednesday night worship practice and games that you ignore what’s important—which is connecting caring adults with kids. In the same way, don’t be so focused on just “hanging out” that you never are achieving anything. “Program” (the stuff you do) can help you achieve purpose. In other words, games can break down walls and get kids laughing. Bible studies can help kids grow in their faith. Small groups can help adults connect with kids and engage them in meaningful conversations. Don’t be scared of program, but never let it trump people.
3. Mobilize and develop a team of volunteers who minister with you achieving that purpose
Don’t try to do this task alone. Do the math. You could either spend 20 hours a week hanging with kids, or you can spend 10 hours a week hanging with kids and another 10 building into adults who will EACH spend time with kids… then your “hours of impact” just quadrupled! (Here’s the math.)
It all starts with you recruiting your dream team. If I was reaching 30 kids, then my goal would be to have at least 6 volunteers who could devote 5 hours a week to building into kids. That way each week I could have one small group leader not only meeting with 5 kids in some small group format weekly, but also hanging out with them occasionally, attending their sports events, taking them out for ice cream, discipling them over French fries (yes… youth ministry has high potential to make you fat).
Other helpful resources:
Explore our TheSource4YM.com website and tap into those free resources. It’s a GOLD MINE of free help each week. From the articles that keep you current (my blog and the youth culture window articles on our parents page), to the stuff you can use each week like the music discussions, YouTube discussions, team builders, games, etc.: TheSource4YM.com
And DYM has some amazing youth ministry resources for just a few dollars each: DownloadYouthMinistry.com
Also… check out our FREE TRAINING VIDEOS page: TheSource4YM.com/free-training-videos