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3 Stages of a Youth Worker’s Development

By Doug Franklin November 8, 2016

When I first started out in youth ministry, my version of a good night of programming included some wacky games, a few words about the Bible, and a wrestling match between the boys and me. If students liked me, I figured that I was a success. Looking back, I’m thankful that my first years in ministry look very little like my last, and I’m happy to say that my measure of success has changed.

As youth workers, it’s our job to help students grow, but we also need to be growing ourselves. Through experiences and healthy feedback we can discover ways to do ministry differently and more effectively.

Growth happens in stages, and I find that most youth workers go through three unique phases of development. Take a look at these stages, and try to determine where you might fall.

Stage One: Self
Youth workers in this early stage are primarily concerned with being liked. We want students to think we’re “cool”, and we aim to become someone students relate to, sometimes to a fault. Parents, pastors, and church leaders often times inspire this kind of thinking. How many times have you heard a church leader say, “The students really like her,” or “the students just don’t connect with him”? Their priority is that students like the youth worker. If you find yourself in this phase, don’t worry; most youth workers spend a couple of years in this phase, myself included. Remember that being liked is not the ultimate goal, and begin the process of moving from friend to mentor.

Stage Two: Student
Stage two centers on students’ growth. We are motivated by the students growing in their spiritual lives and want them to have healthy relationship. We work tirelessly with students, and we program and create new and exciting ways for them to experience Christian community. BUT we tend to forget about our adult volunteers in our attempts to be “Super Youth Worker”. I see lots of folks in this group who may be on the verge of burn out. They love Jesus and students, but their impact is minimal because they are working alone. At this stage, it’s critical to look towards partnership opportunities.

Stage Three: Servant
Not all youth workers will make it to this phase, but here we realize that we can’t do it all, and we seek out partners to join in the mission. We begin to look for those who share our values and create new ways to work together. This is why we tend to see older, more mature youth workers with larger teams of adult volunteers. They’ve learned to focus on a few key areas of strength and let others handle other areas of the ministry. They are effective, but they don’t look like they are trying very hard.

Most of us have or will go through these stages. No matter what stage you’re in, look for ways that God is growing and equipping you, and look forward to the growth in your ministry that will follow.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More