New to Youth Ministry: The Importance of Professionalism
“We need to fire the youth pastor.” Those words, spoken to my boss, drew me into what became a negotiation process between church leaders and a young youth minister. It was one of many times I have been involved in the rescue of someone’s employment in a church. Most of these situations have been about things not done, rather than some egregious error or moral failure. As someone who is committed to seeing youth ministers remain in their churches for many years, I work hard to help avoid premature terminations. Simply put: let’s avoid getting fired for things we neglected to do.
Consider implementing the following four strategies to ensure that you are putting your best food forward. These are habits we can develop over time as we grow to become professional youth ministers.
Be responsible. Let me define that creatively. Be response-able. Return calls, reply to text messages, and respond to email in a timely fashion. These are areas that if done right make relationships a whole lot easier. Nothing irritates people more than not hearing back about a question, comment, or concern. What we communicate when we fail to respond or reply is that the person or their concern is not important to us. We quickly kill trust when we fail to reply, return, or respond. Proverbs 15:23 advises us that our responses should be helpful and timely. Yet there is one other factor that we need to balance in the equation. It’s important to be present with people, and often that means we set aside our devices. Make time between meetings and appointments to respond to calls, texts, and email.
Be proactive. Plan ahead. Take the time to map out long-range plans, leaving space for flexibility of course. Be sure to communicate those plans to everyone affected by them. Communicate the what and why of all that you do. Let people see your vision for ministry. Your strategy should be transparent. The order of that communication might be: pastor/rector, then church staff/leaders, then parents, then students, then congregation.
Often times much of our communication should be simultaneous. Then communicate it again. Students and parents in particular need regular reminding about what is going on and why. There is always that one parent who says, “you never told us,” after three emails plus announcements in the church bulletin. While an occurrence like this might cause us to question why we should even bother with all this communication, it gives us the cover to gently say, “I have communicated this through…” Plan, communicate, and then anticipate. Being proactive means anticipating what opposition we will face and what hurdles will need to be overcome. Have a plan for those as well. It’s not enough to simply put it out there and expect everything to go fine. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us that people need direction or they enter into chaos. A lack of vision from a leader will lead a team into chaos.
Be prepared. Few things are more frustrating than the reality that when students go home from youth group and their parents ask what they did, the answer will be “nothing.” I strongly feel that if a student shows up to youth group and we have nothing for them, we failed and should not be paid for this position. There are times when things don’t go as planned, but there should never be a time when nothing was planned and nothing took place. We kill youth ministries that way and we also kill our integrity. We should have a plan entering all situations and a plan for what to do if things fall apart.
Be prepared for all meetings, not just youth group. This includes meeting with people one-on-one. Know what you are seeking to accomplish or the time is wasted. Even if it’s just getting to know someone, have a strategy to do that effectively. Another aspect of preparedness is being on time. I was born late and have struggled to be on time to anything since then. Yet I have learned that there are times when being late is more trouble than it’s worth. I have to ask myself, if I am late to this particular meeting or appointment, am I communicating that their time is less important than mine? Being prepared and on time conveys professionalism.
Be grateful. Make a point of thanking people at every turn. Using email is okay for general thanks, but handwritten notes are far more effective. When our job is to serve others, we should be thankful for every bit of help we get. Having this attitude will lead to others being willing to get involved in your ministry. The key is to remember that we serve others, not the other way around.
Professionalism is not an easy task in youth ministry, but it is vital. Youth Pastors often have the reputation of being the church slackers, and we cannot afford that. The professional comes across as organized, focused, passionate, and a valuable member of the ministry team. Professionalism allows for outside focus to remain on your actual ministry; in everything we do, we are to glorify God (Colossians 3:23-24).