One of the issues that drives me crazy when I look at the state of youth ministry today is the over emphasis on pragmatism. I believe youth ministry is a deeply theological endeavor. As an Adjunct Professor of youth ministry at Nazarene Theological Seminary, I tend to spend very little time on practical issues. I prefer to help youth workers learn to engage deeply in theological reflection about the Christian Formation of young people, about ministry, about curating the kind of environments that facilitate human flourishing and what it means to nurture vibrant communities of Christian practice.
However, I always take one class to depart from the more heady content to focus on some very practical things I’ve learned during my 41 years of youth ministry. Although, I’ve never made a New Year’s Resolution, some of the following issues may be worth adding to your list for the New Year if you’re into that.
So here we go:
1. RESOLVE CONFLICT
Do everything you can to properly resolve conflict. Here are some ways you can accomplish this.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Really listening to the other goes a long way toward deescalating conflicts. When someone is worked up there is almost always a fear that is the source of the conflict. Find out what it is and address it. A lot of times the fear is unrealistic and you may be able to alleviate what is fueling the problem.
- Be willing to compromise. Don’t dig into your position in an effort to get your way. Most of the time this isn’t necessary. Sometimes it is, but most times it is not a make or break situation.
- Be patient with the “other.” Show maturity in your effort to resolve the conflict.
- Demonstrate humility in the midst of a conflict. You may just be wrong. Be willing to admit when you are wrong or when you unnecessarily escalated the problem.
- ALWAYS AVOID TRIANGULATION. Triangulation always pours fuel on the fires of conflict. If someone launches into complaints about a person not present quickly find a way to shut it down. Suggest that you should continue the conversation with the other person actually present. Believe me this will add to your stature as a leader.
Make it a priority to let your senior pastor, executive pastor or whom ever you report to, know what you are doing, thinking and planning. Seek their advice and counsel. Communicate to your young people. Let them know what your are trying to do, what you hope to accomplish and what your expectations are for your community of young people. Communicate to the parents of your young people. Do all you can do to make them feel a part of the youth ministry. Provide parents with details of your program and upcoming plans.
3. KEEP LEARNING
Don’t stop growing. Develop expertise. There are excellent new youth ministry books coming out all the time – read them. However, don’t limit your reading and learning to just youth ministry. Learn about leadership, the church, theology, human development, history, technology, sociology, ok, you get it… keep learning. Be curious. Albert Einstein declared, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” When you use your imagination, when you learn, when you grow, you stay interesting and people like to be around interesting people. And I’m not talking about being a “know it all.”
4. SPEND MORE TIME LISTENING THAN TALKING
When I was in my mid-twenties I remember reading a quote about two prominent British personalities, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. I cut the following quote out of the article and posted on my desk where I could see it everyday. I’ve never forgotten it and it has made my life more interesting as a result.
Here it is,
“A young lady was taken to dinner one evening by Gladstone and the following evening by Disraeli. Asked what impressions these two celebrated men had made upon her, she replied, ‘When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.’”
Keep the focus on the people you encounter and learn to be a true conversationalist. Don’t think about what you are going to say while the person you are with is talking. Listen, ask questions and explore the mystery of their life.
5. WORK HARD
Lead by example, give your work all your effort, passion and creativity. I’m not encouraging you to be a workaholic. Too often, we don’t allow enough margin in our lives. Work hard, play hard and rest well.
6. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Exercise, eat healthy, get more sleep and find ways to disconnect from your work. Nurture close and healthy relationships. Every Thursday morning I meet with two pastors who are also dear friends. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We are doing life together. We need each other.
7. BE PASTORAL
As a youth pastor, give priority to the move toward a pastoral posture in almost every situation you find yourself in.
8. OK, THIS NEXT THING IS REALLY PRACTICAL, BUT REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT…
Do this and you will be forever indebted to me. Are you ready? Here it is — Don’t write anything in an email that you would not want everyone to see. Believe me, this will serve you well.
9. MAKE A COMMITMENT TO FEED ON A STEADY DIET OF BEAUTY
Watch the sunset, notice the changing leaves in the fall, develop an appreciation for art, read poetry, take walks, sit beside still waters, lie down and count the stars, go to concerts and see the image of God in the person you are with.
10. LOVE JESUS
Seek God with all your heart, mind and soul. Learn to sit at the feet of Jesus. Meditate on the goodness of God. Listen to the still small voice of the divine. Remember and believe that you are always the BELOVED.
Peace to you and JOY.
Mike King is in his 42nd year in youth ministry and serves as President/CEO of Youthfront. Youthfront provides youth ministry programs, services, resources, and training. Mike has served as an Elder and a Pastor in his church in Midtown Kansas City – Jacob’s Well, and is an adjunct Professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Mike is a Senior Advisor for Museum of the Bible opening in Washington DC in November 2017. Mike’s book Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation has received widespread critical acclaim. Mike and his wife, Vicki, live in Kansas City. They have two sons and a daughter, all happily married, and six grandchildren.