What Youth Ministry Needs Less Of In 2013

I hate the idea that what I am doing is creating a barrier for students hearing the Gospel and growing in their faith. As the four of us, (Darren, John, Leneita, and myself), have surveyed the youth ministry landscape, here are our personal opinions of what youth ministry needs less of in 2013. These are our personal opinions and are not meant to hurt or offend. Please know that we are simply sharing what we see as we look back and look forward this year. We hope to spark some good conversation and add some of your comments to this discussion…

Youth Ministry

(Leneita) In 2013, youth ministry needs less gimmicks:  Yes,  we should do whatever it takes to reach our  youth.  However,  we often fail to stop and ASK our youth what they are looking for, or what they need.  I have been challenged that students “do not know the answer to that question.”  I totally disagree.  We should be using quality curriculum and the excellent resources available.    I have yet to meet a student who has  told me that the smoke machine is what keeps them coming back to a group.  When we fail to seek out what they are looking for  we have missed a generation who hungers for relational authenticity.

(Darren):  In 2013, youth ministry needs less whining.  Working in ministry is not the easiest – or most lucrative job on the planet.  Surely we knew that going in.  Occasionally we vent – and we all need to do that.  But sometimes we also need to suck it up.  We make sacrifices for this calling.  If we allow those sacrifices to steal the joy of serving God in this high calling, it may be time to re-evaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Has your venting turned into constant whining?

(John):  In 2013 youth ministry needs less youth workers trying to mimic others,  and seek Christ instead. I once heard Steven Furtick say that one of the reasons that we struggle with insecurity is that we compare our “behind the scenes,” to someone else’s “success reel.”  This is an ironic statement from one of the youngest pastors in history of one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the US.  So I look to Furdick and I think. “If I was younger.  If I had more faith like he does.  If I was a better communicator,  then my ministry would be more successful.”  Instead,  what I should be doing is seeking the Lord.  I should be pressing into him.  My life should be about my relationship with HIM and then the ministry will follow.  In Christ’s eyes he simply wants me to follow him, then he will tell me what my ministry ought to be.  When I do this then he looks at me and says, “Well done good and faithful servant.”  That is entirely the point isn’t it?

(Phil) In 2013 youth ministry needs less disorganization. If you follow my posts you will often see a tendency to talk about strategy, planning, and productivity. I know that youth ministry is not a business and much of our work is relationally driven and our schedule must be flexible. However, I am not talking about becoming rigid in what we do, I am simply saying that we need to avoid being overly disorganized and winging most of what we do. By choosing to be last minute and disorganized we are choosing to live in what Tim Elmore calls ‘repair’ mode. In other words our ministry becomes broken by our lack of planning. In addition, students, parents, and leaders around us will never take us seriously when we fail to plan. Not only that, we will frustrate those around us…

What does youth ministry need less of? What have you learned in the last year that you need to get rid of in your youth ministry? What would you add to this list? What do you disagree with on this list? 

Our next post… What Youth Ministry Needs More of in 2013

Phil <><


  • http://christopherwesley.org Christopher Wesley

    Great topic. I agree with all four of you and what I would say youth ministry needs less workaholism. I feel like I just meet, and hear about too many youth ministers burning themselves out, neglecting families and use God has a scapegoat. I’m guilty of this myself, I just think we need to embrace the Sabbath more.

  • http://youthworktalk.com Phil Bell

    Great addition Chris! I agree with you mate! This is one that should be on the list every year! I can’t tell you how many youth workers I know who are burning out, making poor decisions, and hurting their families because of not taking care of their own personal walk…

    Thanks Chris! Great thoughts!

    Phil <

  • http://www.smarterym.com Aaron Helman

    I know at least a few youth workers need to spend less time trying to be IMPRESSIVE. Youth workers get caught up trying to emulate big megachurches by ourselves – videos, music, teaching, etc…

    What we don’t realize is that those churches have dozens of people contributing to the program.

    Even worse, the pursuit of that kind of a service becomes all-encompassing and takes our time away from what really matters – our students.

  • Phil Bell

    Aaron, you are right on the money! I agree. I am not sure everyone would agree with me but I know my high school students would when I say, they care more about relationships, belonging, and mission, than they care about being impressed.

    How many of us pursue being impressive when our students are not impressed? They desire relationships, belonging, and purpose…

    Phil <

  • http://www.robbiemackenzie.com Robbie Mackenzie

    Phil, great stuff as usual. I would add that youth ministry needs less of reactive approaches and more long-term proactive approaches. I need to think 3 or 5 years down the road about every decision I make for individual students and for the group as a whole.

  • Phil Bell

    Robbie! Fantastic wisdom here! Yes, I agree! I think I will apply this to how I parent too! So often we can spend so much time fire fighting the issues of today without paying attention to ‘fire preventing’ the issues of tomorrow. Great insights!

    As you look ahead, what are some of the foundational approaches you are fixated on? Would love your ideas and insights here!

    Phil <

  • Jono Zantingh

    Thanks for this, and for all the follow-up comments. Great insight! If I may add my 2 cents…
    I think YM in 2013 needs less “lone rangers” or “super stars”. It’s not about the popularity of the youth pastor or leader. It’s about the cause, the team that’s developing, and the local church you’re apart of and submitted to. Make sure that you’re students are buying into and owning the greater vision, and not just you as the leader.

  • Phil Bell

    Jono! Again, great insights here! I am loving the conversation! Yes, are we attracting students to super star youth workers or Jesus? I think it is OK to say “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” as Paul said. However, often the shallowness of superstart youth workers is not imitating Christ… You are right on here Jono! Great wisdom!

    Phil <

  • Matt Barcalow

    Great posts! I agree with all of them. One idea for what we need more of: more Brits in StuMin. It will definitely increase the quality overall.

  • Phil Bell

    Ha! Good one Matt! I am not sure more Brits in student ministry would improve things… Perhaps, they might just sound like they know what they are doing?

  • http://www.leadersedge.net Tim Downey

    Great post, plus all the additions! I think Youth Ministry needs less misalignment. One of the most problematic areas of Youth Ministry is misalignment with the church. Through either unintentional vision leak or intentional redirection, all too often youth ministries have a tendency to “go off the farm” and create their own mission and overall focus. The result, most often is the silo effect within the ministry. This, if left unchecked, will ultimately lead to marginalization at best and implosion of the ministry at worst. Scripture is clear that one of the keys to effective ministry is unity Eph. 4:1-6.

  • http://youthworktalk.com Phil Bell

    Tim! Spot on my friend! I think you will like the next post and what Darren has to say! Thanks! So refreshing to have a clear vision and scriptural basis! Great to hear from you! Let’s keep talking!

    Phil <><

  • http://www.darrensutton.com Darren Sutton

    LOVE these comments – so much thoughtful wisdom!! Thanks for weighing in, folks! And thanks for giving me a chance to rant, Phil! ;)

  • http://youthworktalk.com Phil Bell

    Welcome Darren! Brilliant to see so many healthy ideas, thoughts, and philosophies being shared here!

  • Leneita

    Wow! Thanks to so many people weighing in! I especially agree with the idea of the “Superstars” and those trying to be “Impressive.” In some ways that is the more blunt way that John and I were trying to touch on when we talked about the need for less gimmicks and more people just seeking Christ. Why can’t we just work as a body to be faithful to the call the Lord has given us? Chris- yes- I so agree with the workaholism. I struggle with this myself. I think we can forget Christ in the very pursuit of “his cause.” Thanks to so many weighing in!

  • Jason Stone

    With over 20 years in youth ministry around my region and the US I love this question. What Does Youth Ministry need less of?
    I agree with most everything I’ve read so far and I love the passion in each statement. I would like to add my 2Cents worth. Youth Ministry over the years have gone through many phases since the 1700’s. Phases where Pastors were everything in the church to hiring “Professionals and Volunteers,” today. I am proud of the vast majority of Youth Minister’s (YM). Low pay and long hours that will only be returned when heaven’s gates are opened for them and they see the eternal harvest that is waiting there because of their faithfulness.
    In YM we often get so ramped up keeping the right balance between being a Pastor, Staff worker, Friend, Co-laborer, ant under the microscope, Single adult looking for love or Married adult trying to save it we will often lose track of the ministry and calling that we are a stick carrier in a long marathon and every 2-3 years we are handing off the baton of generations to the next team of ministries while always keeping the doors of our lives open. Too often I have seen the segregation of young people from church’s and it’s extended staff because YM’s didn’t want to let go and let God do what he is doing. We need less rebellion in ministry that says the YM is the end ministry. Also I would add that if your calling isn’t YM and it is just a box you’re checking off then get out of it and go to where your calling rest.
    YM needs less tying the definition of success to numbers. Churches need to quantify what is the magic number they won’t tolerate going beneath. It has always made me laugh in YM that there is always moving measurements of what is acceptable and not. Too often that measurement are never defined because churches are too cowardly to own up that there are limits based in the imposed limitations by the cultural structure, financial investment, age and experience of the YM and the necessary boundaries needed for the Youth Pastor (YP) to thrive as an individual faithfully following God. This is a type of ponsi scam placed on YPs everywhere. We need less bait and switching and more clarity in the church culture and leadership that too often is ready to hire and fire but not partner with the YP in the shaping and developing the vision for the ministry. There is always the illusion that the YP can stay for a lifetime in a position and that the church will help it grow and support the ministry. The reality is that “ministry” is more often than not set up for failure by the withdraw of time and support for it. The church and it’s membership will began a passive aggressive resistance campaign to move on to the next shinny thing they feel they can control better because they often never expected the YP to succeed how they do. If churches were more honest about their expectations and were willing to fully get behind those expectations with clear definitions and expectations we would see something that would be on the order of revolutionary. If 25 kids are the goal bam! Be honest about it. If you want the major focus to be the young people you already have connected to the membership then tell the truth. Don’t say that we want to reach the entire community and then punish the YM when they do. If you only want people of the same race be honest about it. Too much church ministry is disguised in the image of the evangelist but the actions of a trader to the great commission. We need less bait and switch and more integration of all facets of ministry together. Not mini-little kingdoms but rather one family, one purpose and one God.

  • Phil Bell

    Jason, Thanks for your comments. You voice a lot of struggles many of us have experienced. Thanks for your transparency. I am glad that even though there is hard reality many of us face in youth ministry, I am also glad that there is a lot of hope in recent years. Churches, parents, pastors and students are beginning to see that things need to change… This is happening… Sometimes too slowly… But things are moving forward.

    As a leader in the local church I am called to be that change no matter how frustrating it can be… I would encourage you to take your experiences, (good and bad) and join me in the being a voice of positive change…

    I know you will like our next post: What Youth Ministry Needs MORE of in 2013…

    Thanks again mate! I greatly appreciate your words! This blog is a place of conversation. Thanks for joining the conversation!

    Phil <