The Challenges and Joys of Youth Ministry in Your Twenties
Ah, the twenties. Armed with a college diploma and your first real paycheck, the world is your oyster. You’re young, eager, and most likely free from the demands of a spouse and kids. What a time to be alive!
Oh, the twenties. Stripped of your beloved college community, unprepared for the unexpected freight train that is the “real world,” aimlessly seeking to find your “calling” in life. Some of us are longing to start a family of our own. It’s a tough time to be alive.
As if the early twenties were not difficult enough, being a new youth minister in your twenties brings an additional challenge. As a now seasoned twenty-something at the ripe age of twenty-five (please catch the sarcasm here), I so wish I could go back to my newly-graduated self and speak some needed truth into her life. And yet, I am also grateful for the sanctifying lessons the Lord has taught me– and is teaching me!– as a twenty-something in youth ministry.
Failure and Humility are a Gift
One of the first things I did in my new office upon taking my first ministry job was to hang my college diploma on the wall. I wish I could say my motivation was a mere display of school pride. If I’m being honest, it’s totally because I wanted people to know about my fancy liberal arts education.
As a twenty-something, it can be tempting to think that graduating from college means your education is over. As cliche as it sounds, I have learned that it really has just begun. My twenties have been some of the most humbling years of my life. This has meant the Lord often brings me to a place of realizing that my only grounds for boasting are in the cross of Christ. Earthly wisdom and an impressive transcript will fade, but the truth of the gospel will remain forever.
At some point post-graduation, it seems inevitable that every twenty-something will encounter their first Real World Failure. For me, this came quickly in my first job. For others, it might be in the form of an unhealthy relationship or a poor investment of money. These failures are gracious learning experiences from the Lord. They drive us deeper into His arms to receive grace upon grace for our manifold weaknesses and mistakes. They humble us and remind us that apart from Christ, we can do nothing.
If you are a twenty-something in ministry, I would encourage you to do what I hope to be doing for the rest of my life: surround yourself with people who know far more than you do. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Pray daily for humility and for the grace to lean not on your own understanding.
Your college experience was not a waste, to be sure, but the Lord longs to prune you of your worldly desires for success and prestige. Trust Him in the often painful yet always sanctifying process of realizing that you live and move and have your being only through His grace alone.
Community is a Gift
One of the unique blessings of college is easily accessible community. Even if you walked through a season of loneliness in college, as many do, college also means four years of being in close proximity with other humans 24/7. The Lord was kind to give me a steady and life-giving group of friends during my college experience. If I had a bad day, I could easily hop on a friend’s bed and eat ice cream. If I needed a study partner, I could always join a group table in the library. Whenever I needed the company of others, it was easily within reach.
Of course, I took this blessing for granted. I have never felt lonelier than I did as a twenty-something in the “real world” for the first time. Without “my people” by my side, I felt totally clueless as to how to seek community. I had not had to work hard at it for the past four years!
If you are in youth ministry, you have already no doubt discovered that ministry often means wrestling with loneliness and isolation. It is therefore vital for youth ministers in this stage of life to be seriously dedicated to asking the Lord to help us find sustaining community.
As wonderful as they are, high schoolers and your co-workers won’t cut it. I would encourage you to seek community with those in your age group who can empathize with the burdens and joys of your life. This might be awkward at first, but community, especially Christ-centered community, is needed protection against the enemy’s attempts to keep you in isolation and despair. Join a book club, go to local trivia nights, invest in a young adult small group.
Outside your age group, seek friendships with families in your church that will welcome you into their home for a meal. You will find this nourishing not just physically, but spiritually. Allow your church body to care for you in this way. Finding rich friendships and investing in them will help you more tangibly experience the presence of Christ, ultimately allowing you to weather the lonely seasons of the twenties, as well as enrich you in your ministry.
Your Age is a Gift
Of course, every season of life has both its challenges and its joys. I hope to encourage us to harness the gift of our age in this unique season of ministry. The twenties hit a sweet spot for connecting with students: we still have (most!) of the youthful energy we had as teenagers, yet, we also have walked with the Lord longer and can offer a bit more perspective beyond the high school years.
I love being able to catch a pop culture reference from a student. I can still sleep on the ground at a retreat with minimal back pain. I can easily recall the sadness of not being asked to prom. I have perspective enough to joyfully assure a hurting student that the Lord has infinitely more in store for them than this high school romance.
Added to this, most of us are not burdened by families of our own and are therefore able to pour into students from a deeper well of time and energy (while still being sure our boundaries are protected).
This decade can be an odd combination of loneliness, growth, freedom, and excitement. And yet, the same God who has sustained us to this point will continue to do so in every decade to come. As we seek the Lord’s humility, wisdom, and provision in community and in ministry, may He bless these years with opportunities to see His hand at work both in our students’ lives and our own.