After 30 years of working in youth ministry, in almost every capacity imaginable, I felt God opening a different ministry door for me. My wife and I sold most of our possessions, packed up our home, and headed to the mission field (something we had done once before). This time though to work primarily with adults. Shortly after we arrived in the Dominican Republic, our oldest son landed a job as the youth director for a third campus that our home church was launching in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Thrilled that he was going into the “family biz,” I was overcome with a deep desire to impart to him the church bus-loads of insight that I had gained over the past three decades. My motivation was to help him to enjoy some of the fruits of ministry that I have enjoyed while avoiding some of the same mistakes I made. What follows is advice that I wanted to pass on to my 23-year old youth worker son (and any other youth worker):
WORK HARD (AND SMART)
Youth ministry, like most professions, is hard work. You need to learn to juggle many tasks. So many youth workers, especially those starting out, have a difficult time managing their weekly schedule. Often what compounds this problem is that they have very little experience working in the “real world” where they have a boss daily looking over their shoulder, expecting results.
If you are to succeed in youth ministry, you must learn to work hard and smart. You may be tempted to use your time unwisely. After all, you have a lot of flexibility with this job. You can take two-hour lunches. You can run personal errands almost any time of the day. These are great luxuries of this job. You still have a job to do though and in order to honor your church, and most importantly the Lord, you still need to put in the hours required.
My advice to you would be to figure out what you need to get done every week and begin to experiment (and document) with how long these things take to accomplish. In any given week you have many different things to focus on. Here are just some of the things that you need to figure out how to fit into your week:
- Study for teaching
- Time with students (individual meetings and attending their events)
- Prep for meetings other than study
- Time with leaders
- Future event/camp planning
- Educational reading
- Set up meetings
Once you have figured out what you need to get done each week and approximately how long it takes, WORK HARD at doing each thing well. You need to learn to discipline yourself to stay focused on the task at hand and not allow yourself to get distracted by the tyranny of the urgent or with things that are not a priority at that moment.
Churches can be a breeding ground for sloppy work habits. Fellow staff will come into your office and shoot the breeze for large chunks of time. You and a staff member will bump into each other and end up chewing the fat. None of these things is wrong or bad in and of themselves. But when it happens fairly regularly, integrity is breached. When you have lots of non-work related activity in your day and you don’t make up for it later, you will add stress to your life because you will find yourself behind in your work. Not to mention, your church is paying you to work a set amount of hours. Honor that.
You need to learn to excuse yourself from non-work related conversations or activities if you find them eating up a chunk of your day. One again, these activities are not wrong in and of themselves. It’s when they begin to interfere with you getting your work done in a timely manner that they are wrong. You don’t want to get in the habit of having to take work home with you or working on your day off because you aren’t efficient with your time at work. I will address this more in depth later.
Youth ministry is filled with never ending tasks and people needs. The best way to do what God has called you to do is know what needs to get done, figure out the best way to do it (which could mean delegating it) and work hard at it. I would suggest that you start your day doing the things you enjoy least in order to get them over with so you always have things to look forward to in your day. “Success depends not merely on how well you do the things you enjoy, but how conscientiously you perform those duties you don’t.” *ch 9
Working hard means you are being faithful to your church, your direct boss, your students and volunteer leaders, parents and ultimately God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Rob McIlvoy is a 30-year youth ministry veteran who has worked in churches, Young Life and internationally. He initially wrote this for his 23-year old son who had just landed his first full-time youth ministry position. He was hoping to impart words of advice as he began his own calling.