This summer will mark my fifth year in full-time vocational youth ministry. Given enough time, I could write thousands of words about all that I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made, what I would do differently, what I would do the same, etc.
But we’re youth leaders. I don’t have time to write all that and you don’t have time to read it.
With that in mind, I’ve condensed much of what I’ve learned over the last five years into two really big, really general ideas.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my first five years of youth ministry:
1) Youth ministry is messy.
We’re ministering to imperfect, sinful human beings—and immature ones at that. If that weren’t messy enough we too are imperfect, sinful human beings. This results in one big and obvious conclusion: Youth ministry is messy!
Students are going to make some unwise decisions. You’re going to make plenty of your own. Parents are going to get under your skin. You’re going to return the favor. Volunteers will likely fail to fulfill their commitment to the youth ministry. You’ll likely fail to fulfill your commitment to your family. There will be problems. There will be tension. There might be chaos. There certainly will be messiness.
As long as we are imperfect people ministering to imperfect people (which is forever if you’re keeping score) ministry will continue to be messy. Don’t be surprised by it. Don’t run from it. Embrace it as the reality of broken people ministering to broken people in a broken world. Where sin, brokenness, and messiness increase, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20).
2) Ministry is a process.
Ministry takes time. If we’re honest, results typically come much slower than we’d like. But let’s remember that not all growth is quickly realized or even quantifiable at all. Good fruit takes a while to grow. Embrace the process.
Similarly, we’re always youth leaders in process. The day will never come where we “arrive” as youth leaders. There will always be room to grow as counselors, communicators, small group leaders, and so on.
While transformation and growth may happen at a slower pace than we’d like, both in our students and us, don’t despise the process! It is in this space that we are slowly being transformed one degree at a time (2 Cor. 3:18).
What about you—what have you learned during your tenure as a youth leader or worker?
Jonas Larkin is the middle school student pastor at Oak Hill Baptist Church in Somerset, KY. He enjoys his family, good books, coffee in the morning, and all things Kentucky Wildcats. You can find him online at JONASLARKIN.COM or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @JONASLARKIN.