1. Who butters the bread?
In every parish there is a gatekeeper. Sometimes it is the Priest, office manager, book keeper, or secretary. They are the straw that stirs the coffee. If you want something done you need to get their approval. How do we get that approval? Bribery of course.
I worked in a parish in Chicago and if you wanted to get anything done you had to get Peggy’s approval. She was in charge of Fr.’s calendar, the booking of space, and everything else that went on in the parish. Once I figured out that she was the gatekeeper in the parish, I found out what kind of coffee she liked. If I wanted to get something done, I would walk into her office with a muffin and Venti latte with skim milk. I would give them to her and then smile and tell her how good of job she was doing. She knew I was buttering her up, but she also felt appreciated and would more times then not, get me right in to see Father, or magically I could get any room in the building. Sometimes I would take her coffee even when I didn’t need anything, just because I knew I would need her help in the future. It made her feel appreciated and to be honest I enjoyed brightening her day. She had a tough job.
So take an interest in people and bribe them a little bit with a simple offering once in a while. People enjoy you taking an interest in them. I learned a lot about her and I always knew I had an advocate when I needed it.
2. Have goals, make sure they are also the goals of the Parish.
Youth Ministry programs should have stated goals. Some of the goals should be of a structural, spiritual, outreach nature and even the charism of your church. Get input from different people as to what they would like to see from the ministry. Talk to teens, their parents, other staff, and especially your Priest. Once you have your goals in mind, right a very specific goal and how you hope to achieve that goal as well as areas where you will need help and who you will be asking to help.
Once you have these assembled make them known. Start with your advisory group if you have one and see if they have anything to add. Then take them to your Priest or parish council. Once you have approval and revised your goals, publish them for anyone and everyone to see. This will help to hold you accountable, but more importantly it will stop questions like, “what do they do in youth ministry.” If they do ask you pull out your goals and say, “here you go, we going skiing and like play lazer tag and stuff, duh:).”
3. Keep it real.
Don’t be who you are not. One of the things we tell our young people is that they should be who God created them to be. We should take our own advice. Don’t try to be hip and cool if you are unhip and uncool. Be who you are the, kids will respect you more. It is o.k. also to let them know that you are not perfect. Admitting mistakes or weaknesses can be o.k. if done in the correct context. Look we all know that we are dorks. Embrace your dorkiness and the kids will too. The last thing you want to do is throw in some Lady Gaga and start bouncing around the room like you are 15 years old. Totally lame.
4. Relationships, relationships, relationships?
Relational ministry is vital to youth ministry. To establish a healthy relationship in which young people feel safe and and can grow in their faith is vital. But, and this is a big BUT, we need the relationship of the young people to be a much stronger connection to their faith community and less with the youth minister. So it becomes incredibly important for our relational ministry to be about outreach and providing a comfortable situation for young people to grow a natural connection with the community of believers not only their age, but with the whole church.
5. All by myself, I wanna be all by myself.
Great song, bad motto for youth ministry. Jesus sent his disciples out 2 by 2 for a reason. He knew that we need companionship in ministry. It is tough work. I could point to key 4 again and the concept of the community of believers being very important to the faith. If you get a team to work with you in ministry you are more likely to reach the needs of kids from all walks of life. You also will be able to accomplish more with more hands. So form a team and use the gifts that they bring to loosen the load that we bear. One important note on a team ministry approach is that we make sure that we minister to the team, so they can minister to the kids. Take time outside of planning to ensure that spiritual growth is taking place in your team.
6. Collaborate with others in ministry!
Ministry has many shapes and forms, but all focus to the same thing, being disciples of Christ. Ask your partners in ministry in your parish and in your community what they are doing. Don’t be afraid to borrow. Chances are that someone is doing something pretty cool and it may be right under your nose. Youth ministry folks tend to be creative people, but to come up with something new and original may become taxing. I often would borrow things I would see an RCIA coordinator doing in a parish I worked. It was great, to know that I didn’t have to “think” of anything new, I just had to make sure the team understood and was capable of pulling off the night. Let the gifts of many brighten the path to Christ.
7. Know It
If we want to be a good youth ministers, we should know the ministry. Study what youth ministry is all about. There are classes available through Center For Ministry Development or Ministry Training Source that will help you become better equipped in the field. Also you should probably pick up a copy of Renewing the Vision. Renewing the Vision is a document that was put out by the USCCB about youth ministry. It will help you to understand the Components of YM. It may be helpful to pick up a copy of the General Directory for Catechesis as well. Most importantly we should know Adolescent Development and become experts in the field. All of these things provide credibility to our work and besides everyone knows how cool it is to walk around quoting Renewing the Visions and GDC. You will be a hit at all the parties you don’t get invited to.
8. You Are Not Their Parent
Unless of course your child is in youth ministry. In that case you may be the parent. Dealing with parents can be a frustrating part of the job. Parents are to be the primary catechist of a child and many times they may not fully understand that role. They may not view what you are doing, with the importance that you do. There is also the factor that kids will bring the problems of the family with them to ministry. Our job is to listen and to offer support, and at times we can be a mediator, but we don’t take sides. Being a parent is tough work and no one knows a child better then their parent. Now, with that said, they aren’t perfect either. So our job may be to support them as well. We are experts on adolescence, but they are the expert on their child.
One should walk very carefully when making judgements about the job a parent is doing. Parents are doing the best they can in life to help their children to grow up in this crazy world. Many times they are stressed, tired and are just trying to hold it all together. So our role becomes to hand them super glue at times to bond the family. We can find articles about the role of parent in faith. We can offer Pastoral Care for the family in newsletters or maybe a gathered event where we bring the whole family together for some safe ministry, where they don’t feel threatened. Youth Ministry is about ministering to the whole family. It is important to remember that.
9. Have a Life!!!!
Work can be time consuming. It can draw a lot of our focus. We spend countless hours planning, evaluating, dealing with issues and meetings. If you wake up some day and you realize that all of your Facebook communication is with teens and that the millions of texts are all from people half your age, it may be time to get a life. Set aside time every week to find people your age, with your interests to hang out with. If you are an old married vet, you already know the importance of making time for your spouse, but it is really important that we take that knowledge and make it an action. If you want to get burned out or lose friendships, make your job your only focus. It is unhealthy and ultimately will lead your unhappiness.
10. Pray, Study, Develop Your Faith
When your job and faith intersect it can be difficult to make your faith not a part of your “work.” Many times when this happens our faith struggles. It is very important that we work at it when we are not with young people. We tend to focus on details and that is important in that moment of ministry to some extent, but find time to have your own authentic faith development. If you would like to read more of my thoughts on this key: Tend the Sheep
There probably a number of other things that I could have put in here. Youth ministry can be very complex in the issues that you deal with and what your job description looks like. If you ever need help in any way please contact the office of youth ministry and we would be happy to assist you in your work. You are a blessing to your parish and we want to be your partners in making you the best youth minister possible. May God bless you and the work that you do.