You cannot do this alone.
Yes, I went there. It doesn’t matter if you are the youth pastor of a church reaching 20,000 students or 2 students, you cannot do this by yourself. It does not matter the amount of quiet time and blessings God heaps on you, He has wired each of us to live in community with others. This includes ministry. Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that a “cord of three strands is not easily broken”. While this verse is talking firstly about having trusted friends than can help you in your personal life, it also applies in ministry.
Four Keys to Building Community as a Youth Worker.
Participate in or Build a local network
I’m not only a staff member for National Network of Youth Ministries (link – youthworkers.net), but I was also a youth worker in a local church that was denominationally isolated. I had to reach outside of my denomination to connect with other youth workers. For a period of about 3 years, I was the only paid SBC youth worker in a 5 county area in Indiana. There were only two SBC churches in my county, one of which was “planted/split” out of my church in the early 1990’s. I had to work with other denominations, and that is not a bad thing. Being part of a network saved me from burnout on so many occasions over a six-year period that was pretty tough on me, both in ministry and personally.
If you are not part of a local network, I highly suggest visiting Youthworkers.net, and signing up. Then look for a network near you that you can join. If there is not one in your area, there are staff like me all over the country (I serve in Illinois and Indiana) to help you connect with local youth workers, and train you in starting a new network.
Seek out a couple Senior Pastors you trust
This is not for the local church gossip, or to tell the other pastors how horrible your senior pastor is to you. This is to get a few trusted individuals who have been in the trenches of ministry for a while that can give you insight and another opinion. There are advantages and disadvantages to these people being in your local area that you have to weigh. The advantage to local is an understanding the local context where you serve, but the one who is farther away can often be objective outside of local “bias”. I have usually had a combination of both.
Utilize online collaboration of ideas
There are several ways this happens. The first is a blog site like this or MinistryPlace.Net. You contribute either articles or comments to further the conversation. You can serve to help encourage others that may read the article later. You may be the one reading to be encouraged. If you want to start writing on youth ministry and don’t know what to write, Google “100 Blog Posts I Hope You Write”. My friend Tim Schmoyer made this list years ago, and updates it as people write and “claim topics”. The last time I checked, many are still unwritten . For a long time, this one page was the main source of my blog traffic at MinistryPlace.Net.
Another way is participating in conversations on social media such as the various youth worker groups on Facebook. These are typically closed groups where youth workers can ask questions/voice opinions outside a typical church environment. Twitter is a great place to connect with youth workers; however what you post is for all to see.
Get out of the office, really…
Please don’t throw things at me; I know the connotation of getting “out of the office” as a youth worker. I personally despise that terminology. It’s as if the church leadership expects you to “clock out”, go have lunch with students/attend an athletic event/band recital/etc. These are all part of your job as a youth worker. If you are not doing these things, that is a conversation for another day.
Get out of the office; go take a church member who isn’t a youth parent to coffee. Learn about their life. Help a church member or community member with their garden. Befriend a business owner in your community who may not even go to church. Unplug from youth worker and be a missional presence in your community. This will allow you to get out of the “teenager bubble” that is so easy to get sucked into.
Header image (adaptation) provided through creative commons by US Air Force.