My youth group’s trip to 6 Flags Great Adventure had been scheduled for months, and all the senior high students anxiously awaited the opportunity to be free from their parents and spend the entire day with friends riding roller coasters and eating overpriced junk food. Upon the arrival of said day, however, my boss (the church’s youth pastor) was unable to lead the trip because of an injury. That left yours truly, the youth intern, to bear the responsibility of 21 students, their money, park tickets, and their safety.
Long story short, it ended up being a great day. Among all the rides and junk food, I got to put to test all the things I’ve been learning in the past few months about youth ministry:
1) It’s not about you. All other points fit under this capstone. The second you begin to focus on yourself, you lose sight of your students and it is no longer about what’s best for them, but rather what’s best for you. Even though you would rather not attend an all-nighter, or sing a stupid song on stage, your willingness to be selfless might give way to good talks with a student, or evidence of a transparency they need to know you have.
2) Leader first, friend second. Believe it or not, you can make the most difference in a students life when you first establish yourself as their leader, not their peer. In no way should you not be their friend, but it is necessary to first establish respect because then they know that you can answer their tough questions and and you’re trustworthy, setting you apart from their teenage friends.
3) Comfort zones don’t exist. As a youth leader, that kid who no one talks to is now your responsibility. Sure, you wish your students would put aside their egos to approach him, but most of the time, that’s not the case and it’s up to you to be a good example.
4) Flexibility is key. It might be a kid who calls late at night to talk when you have to be up early in the morning, a fellow leader who drops out of an event last minute, or a sound system glitch. You name a problem, and it can happen in youth ministry. The important thing is to remain level-headed because that is not only the best way to handle the situation, but it also sets a good example for your students.
5) Listen. Even when the play-by-play of their softball game seems dull, or their favorite music drives you crazy, listen. Listen to their stories, experiences, and questions; you might be the only person who does.
6) There are no days off. Every hour of every day, you are their mentor, friend, and example. This line of work takes commitment, confidence, selflessness, and most of all the humility to ask God for help because you can’t do it without him.