5 Ways Youth Ministry Prepared Me For the Lead Pastor Role

So, it's been a little longer between posts than I anticipated. A couple of months ago I began a weekly live vlog-type discussion on Facebook Live, and that has in some ways replaced the writing of a blog for me. That being what it is, I'm going to attempt to find a way to do both - I will continue to do the live video discussion weekly, and write on this blog when I feel inspired to do so (hopefully more often).

As a sort of follow up to my previous blog on 5 Things I've Learned in 20 Years of Full-Time Ministry, I thought I would share my Top5 Ways Youth Ministry Prepared Me for the Lead Pastor Role.  Trust me when I say that there are far more than 5 ways being a Youth Pastor for 10 years prior to becoming a Lead Pastor (and now Church Planter) prepared me for the role!

5. It Takes a Team!

Early on I felt like I had to do everything myself. A part of that was ego. However, attempting to be a one-man-super-youth-pastor was also about being a work-aholic, being immature, and being ignorant. I burned out, and it was pretty close to the nuclear level. Youth Ministry taught me that it takes a team, and that the position I play best on the team is empowering and equipping others to take the lead in various areas of ministry. When I learned to spend the right amount of time with top leaders (both adults and students themselves), more actual Kingdom things began to happen, and I wasn't burning out. I was actually being energized!

The caveat: When you invest deeper into a group of leaders, there will be those who accuse you of playing favorites. This is a good opportunity to check yourself and make sure that you are indeed investing in a team, who is in turn, investing in others, and not actually playing favorites.

4. Keep Healthy Boundaries!

I had to learn boundaries & priorities the hard way. My early burn out in Youth Ministry was about more than me attempting to be One-man-super-youth-pastor. The truth is Youth Ministry (church work) consumed me to the point that a day off for me meant connecting with students outside of the office/church, instead of at the office/church. I took pride in it being said about me, "Steve bleeds youth ministry," and "A Youth Pastor isn't what you do, it's who you are, Steve!" When what I really needed to bleed was Jesus. And who I really needed to be was A Child of God first, a Husband and Daddy next, and a Youth Pastor somewhere after that. Then there's relationships - being available and on-call 24/7 to every student (church member) is not healthy. Scheduling and setting articulated boundaries lead to greater health in relationships (especially at home), as well as greater health emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The Pastor doesn't have to be present at every activity and meeting inside or outside of the church.

The caveat: Some will not understand, as we have created a church culture which is in many ways opposed to Pastors having healthy boundaries. This is a great time to take a fresh look at your boundaries, or lack thereof, and do your best to educate those who may not understand on the necessity of appropriate boundaries, and even help them set some for themselves.

3. Be Prepared!

If I'm going to do something, I want to do my best at it. Not that I feel like I have to be THE best, but I want to be at MY best.  I got over the shallow-fluffy youth lessons that I found in curriculum pretty quickly, and began to invest hours in research, study and writing. There are great moments for winging it, when random discussion leads to something great and deep. But I found that it was the hours spent in preparation that enabled me to speak love and truth into those moments. This doesn't only apply to sermons/lessons, but also meetings with groups and individuals, counseling, and the day to day administration duties. (Truth is, I now tend to over-prepare, and often have more content than is necessary.)

The caveat: There are those who are opposed to preparation, and even education, when it comes to preaching (whether the audience is youth or adults). They will imply, or even just say, that you're not allowing the Holy Spirit of God to lead when you prepare. Love them anyway, and ask if it's possible that Holy Spirit is big enough to speak during preparation (and education) as well as He can in the moment.

2. Be Flexible!

This is one thing I had to learn in practice. Early on, I often had the idea that since I had spent so much time in preparing a talk, event, trip, camp, whatever, that it was a MUST that it go according to plan.  This goes against the very nature of Youth Ministry! In the world of students, randomness is the rule, as very few things are thought through before engaging. Also, students aren't in charge of their own schedules, so learning to be flexible with the schedules of families, schools, sports teams, and even jobs, became a must.  Also, there were those times that I would be giving a talk/sermon and the whole thing just began to go a different direction than I had planned and prepared for. Not to mention all the events/trips that came with flat tires, broken van AC, storms, smelly flip-flops, and jellyfish stings! Be prepared, but be flexible!

The caveat: Learning to lean on God, and hear His leading is a must.  Every unplanned, unanticipated moment is potentially an opportunity to be flexible, but it may also be an opportunity to stick with what you have planned. Don't be so rigid that you steamroll others, but that doesn't mean being steamrolled yourself by everyone else, either. Learn to hear God's voice in the midst of the moment!

1. Be Yourself!

Years ago, at a training conference for Youth Pastors, I heard it put it this way: "This generation has built in enormous crap detectors. And they know when you're full of it!" Fast forward to today, and one thing that is a high value in the culture is authenticity. Over the years, I've sported a few looks that might be considered "flashy casual (ok, weird)," my hair has been every kinda crazy and almost every kinda color, and my talks/sermons are peppered with liberal doses of pop culture (and 80s music) references. None of these things may work for you, and here's why: I was (and still am) just being myself. None of the hair, pierced ears, tattoo, style of dress, was ever an attempt to be relevant, nor even relatable. Every bit of it - the good, the bad, and the very ugly - was (and is) just me being myself. It's not about looking the part, it's about being who you authentically are. And in this, people let their guard down and can just be themselves with you, too! (The sad truth is that most people, including church members, feel they can't be totally themselves around Pastors.)

The caveat: Criticism is inevitable. Be prepared for phrases like, "you don't look like a pastor" and "you use too much humor in your sermons," or whatever, according to your personality. Keep in mind that as a Pastor, you are connecting very different generations, and some criticism will be just because of that.  Other criticism may come because there has been formulated a tradition of how a Pastor moves and speaks and dresses.  Use these as opportunities to look in the mirror (figuratively and literally) and ask "Is there any merit to their opinion? Do I dress to impress, or like a slob? Are my sermons too... whatever? Am I just being myself and in so doing is there anything about myself that I really need to change?" In other words, use the criticism of others as constructive criticism, whether it was meant as such or not!

Hope this helps! If you're a Youth Pastor or Pastor, or potentially considering the call to become so, and would like to discuss more, drop me an email: shinypastorsteve@gmail.com.

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