youth ministry, youth worker, professional

Being Professional

By Doug Franklin July 24, 2009

When I graduated from college I got a job with a real estate development company selling office and industrial space. I would rise early in the morning, wear a suit and tie, speak in low hushed tones, shake hands a lot; I was evaluated on performance and returned home late in the evening. People called me a professional.

When I switched professions to youth ministry, I would meet students in the morning for donuts. I wore shorts and a t-shirt, I spoke as loud as I could, I slapped high-fives; everyday students wondered if I was cool and I returned home late in the evening. People called me wacky.

Youth ministry doesn’t feel like a profession, we don’t have a bottom line and sometimes results can’t be measured for years. The problem is that people discount our ministry because it doesn’t fit their perception of a professional.

I am not going to rail on church people for misunderstanding youth ministry. They are who they are, but I believe we can do something to win people over. Here are some keys to making our ministry professional.

1. Keep a full schedule
Youth ministry is a full-time job and we can always do more to reach and encourage students. I know lots of youth pastors who are lazy and only want to do the fun stuff with students. Keep the big picture in mind, God wants to change students lives and He is using you to do His work and His will.

2. Announce your calendar in advance
Sounds basic – but it’s the one complaint I hear consistently from parents and youth volunteers. Get away and plan the calendar. Do whatever it takes; you look like a fool if you don’t.

3. Return on time
Does your church name time after you? Have you ever heard parents say, “The student ministry is on _______________ (fill in your name) time? If you have, it’s not funny or cute. In fact it may just keep you from getting money for your budget or getting the new job with more responsibility. Leaders don’t think its cute, they think it’s a sign of immaturity. I know the argument – student ministry can’t be run by a watch. Fine, just plan more time in the schedule, but whatever you do return on time.

4. Train your team of volunteers
This is the one thing that separates O.K. youth pastors from great ones. If you have 10 volunteers and no training for them, all you have is chaperons. Turn your volunteers into youth workers. Lone rangers become statistics, team leaders grow youth ministries.

5. Never do anything last minute
Last minute talks, trainings, trips and events lead to disaster. Be intentional; make sure your events match up with your mission and vision for the ministry.

6. Finish what you start
Broken promises and programs that stop for no reason lead people to believe that you are untrustworthy and a person who can’t get a real job.

7. Be financially strong
How you mange money says more about you than anything else you do. If you stay within your budget it will grow with the blessing of your church leaders. Losing receipts and running events that drain your budget just make you look like your ministry isn’t important.

8. Be a life learner
Youth pastors tend to have the rap as know-it-alls. The problem starts with us trying to prove ourselves to the older leaders. Try instead to prove that you can listen and take advice. Get a group of parents to meet with you on a regular basis. Listen to their input, seek out other youth pastors. Look for organizations that can partner with you and help your ministry grow.

9. Don’t play favorites with students, parents or other pastors
When you play favorites it looks like you have a desire to be liked, not a desire to serve students.

10. Don’t spiritualize your shortfalls
People with character and focus don’t make excuses, but use life challenges as chances for growth. No one is impressed by others who spiritualize personal issues; everyone sees it as a weakness. Share struggles; be authentic but also point people to the One who can solve life’s problems.

Ever wonder why you’re not connecting with parents or why senior staff is pushing you to improve? Take an honest look at these ten keys and ask yourself if you need to improve in any of these areas. If you answer is “none of these keys matter when it comes to getting students to grow in the Lord, so why should they matter to me?” Then within the next few months or years you will become a youth ministry statistic. You’ll be one of those people that are referred to as 2.3 years. But if you build on the foundation of these keys, you will beat the odds and be in ministry for years to come.

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