As I sit down to write this, I know it is likely to be the least popular article I ever write. The issue of professionalism in youth ministry is one that makes most youth workers yawn (or throw things), depending on where they range on the ambivalence to rage scale. However, because it’s an issue that few youth workers really care about, it’s one that isn’t written about nearly enough. However, professionalism in youth ministry is a topic that stretches beyond wearing a suit on Sundays. It goes far beyond keeping consistent office hours. It even stretches beyond how we carry ourselves in board meetings.
Here’s the thing . . . professionalism is indeed important. It’s important for a lot of reasons. Even in our unique calling of youth ministry, where we seek to be relevant to teenagers and push the social norms, professionalism is important. The reality is that, while youth ministry does allow us to continue to live out aspects of our teenage years for just a little while longer, at the heart of the calling of every youth worker is the call to care for students.
As youth workers, we carry the responsibility of contributing to the well-being of our students on multiple levels: spiritual, emotional, mental and even physical. What’s more, we are asking parents to trust in us as caregivers, contributing to the care of their children on all of those levels. And parents are going to be far more likely to grant us their trust if we carry ourselves with some level of professionalism.
SO WHAT AM I PROPOSING?
So, you may be asking yourself, “What is he proposing . . . that I wear a suit and tie every Sunday and spend 40 hours in the office every week?” Well . . . no.
You don’t have to wear a suit and tie and turn into an office drone to be professional. Being professional in youth ministry starts with recognizing the significance of what we’ve been called to and responding in a way that shows parents that we take our calling seriously.
6 IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED
Here are 6 ideas to help you get started with what professionalism means . . .
1. Showing up on time for appointments.
Parents are not impressed when we’re late for meetings, church services, or (especially) youth group gatherings.
2. Showing up prepared.
No one’s going to be impressed if we show up to lead the kids in Bible study having not read the passage/material, or not having all the supplies we need for a trip or activity.
3. Responding to phone calls/e-mails in a timely manner.
This is an easy one. When parents have pertinent questions about an upcoming trip or have concerns about their child’s well-being, they aren’t going to be excited about being left hanging until it’s too late.
4. Clear and timely communication about upcoming events and activities.
Parents want and need to be informed if they’re going to involve their kids in our ministries. It’s important for us to extend them the courtesy of clearly communicating what we’ve got coming up in a timely manner.
5. Honoring the accountability system our church has set up for us.
We all have to report to a Senior Pastor. Many of us have to report to a board or leadership team of some kind as well. And their views on us will trickle down to parents. We need to not only honor those who God has put above us because it’s biblical but because it has real implications on how we’re perceived.
6. Keeping ourselves and our offices/youth rooms (relatively) clean and organized.
We all have different levels of giftedness in this area, for sure. But when parents come into our youth rooms or offices and find that they’ve just been condemned by the health department, it’s not a good look. Keeping these areas (and ourselves) relatively clean and organized can make a big difference.
As I said up top, I know this isn’t the most enjoyable topic for anyone. None of us got into youth ministry thinking that we wanted to be the most professional youth pastor the world had ever seen. But this stuff really does matter. Whether we like it or not, how we’re perceived matters when we’re asking parents to trust us to care for their kids. So, we can choose to carry ourselves in a way that puts parents at ease when they leave their kids with us. Or, we can leave them wondering if they really want their kids involved with the train wreck they perceive our ministries to be.
MATT LARKIN serves as the Director of the Department of Student & Family Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (WWW.ACGC.US). In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MATTWLARKIN.