This year’s theme is “The People.” Today we are exploring….
The People Who Save Us From The Lonely Island of Youth Ministry
Ryan Wilson is the Minister of Missions & Students at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. He is a native of Virginia and a graduate of Furman University and McAfee School of Theology. Currently he serves on the board of the CBF Youth Ministry Network. Besides youth and missions ministry, his passions include music, soccer, Duke basketball, and his family: his wife, dog, and soon-to-be-born baby boy!
Without a doubt youth ministry is a place to which I feel deeply called. It is a calling that brings joy and meaning, energy and passion, and one that challenges and rewards me. That said, it seems safe to say for any of us who work, or have worked, in youth ministry that as much joy and meaning as this role can provide, it can also be a lonely place at times. At one time or another, as youth workers, we are bound to experience a moment when we feel as though we are all alone in our ministry. I call this the “lonely island” of youth ministry.
To those who work outside of youth ministry this might sound odd. After all, much of youth ministry is about spending time with people and developing relationships and community. How could someone whose job is to spend time with and around people feel alone in that role? There are, however, plenty of reasons as to why this sense of “alone-ness” might occur. It could be because:
a. your office is tucked away in the corner of the youth area in the basement (or some other far-off part of the church) and you actually do spend a good deal of time physically alone;
b. it seems you can never get the help you need or the chaperones/volunteers needed;
c. you find yourself in the place of needing advice or someone to brainstorm with and you don’t have anyone;
d. you’re the only part-time or volunteer person on staff;
e. or perhaps you sometimes just feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.
Although it was not a reality that I experienced right away, during my 7 years in with youth ministry, whether full-time or part-time, I have certainly experienced the lonely island from time to time.
Now, several youth ministry jobs in, I’ve learned two important lessons in regards to warding off the lonely island. The first: ask for help. Looking back, more often than not, when I felt as though I didn’t have the help I needed to accomplish a certain task or carry out an event or activity, it’s because I didn’t ask for help, or didn’t ask in a way that was timely or useful. For youth ministry to be sustainable we must be willing to invite others into the process. It’s much harder for people to say yes (or no) to something if never asked.
The second lesson I learned was how to surround myself with a ministry community and ministry support. Early on, I was unable to see (or didn’t know to be looking for) the opportunities that already existed around me to form community for me and my ministry. I have found four important ways to find community in youth ministry, rather than to keep going at it alone:
1. Form a team within your church of lay people and volunteers.
This might be the youth council or committee that you are tasked with when taking on a new role as youth minister. Perhaps it’s a ministry support team that put together to help you succeed in your church setting. Maybe it’s your team of volunteers/teachers/leaders who help with your weekly programs. Whatever it is, put one together if one doesn’t already exist! Youth ministry is not an individual activity, it’s a team sport. There are some great resources on creating a team for ministry, including:
• Sticky Faith,Youth Worker Edition, by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, & Cheryl Crawford
• Sustainable Youth Ministry, Mark Devries; and
• The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
2. Find or form a Peer Learning Group.
One of the best communities I’ve found to sustain me and my ministry is my Peer Learning Group. I gather monthly with a half-dozen other youth ministers in my region to talk, unwind, and save one another from burnout. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia actually sponsors our group, and others, and many other state fellowships and groups provide something similar. It’s worth your time to find out if your state or region has something like this already, and if not, form your own! Here is the information from CBF of Georgia: http://www.cbfga.org/74/Peer-Learning-Groups
3. Join a youth ministry network.
Networks of youth workers exists all across the globe, and two years ago I discovered how beneficial becoming a part of youth ministry network is to my ministry. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, of which I am a part, is home to several ministry networks, including the CBF Youth Ministry Network. This nation-wide network brings youth ministers from all across CBF-life together to provide support, resources, and community. The CBFYMN hosts a website, a Facebook page, and once a year, in the winter, gathers together for renewal and continuing education. Other information on the network and additional membership benefits can be found here: http://www.cbfymn.org. I’d invite you to join this network, or one like it that fits your needs, and serves to sustain you and build you up in your ministry.
4. Attend conferences/retreats for youth workers.
There is no shortage of conferences or retreats for those of us who work in youth ministry. Take advantage of these! I’ve been to a few and find them hugely beneficial. Continuing education and working to better ourselves in ministry should be a priority for us all. If for no other reason than to surround yourself with other ministers who are experiencing realities in ministry very similar to your own, try to attend at least one of these a year. You never know what you’ll take away from the event. Ask your church if there is room in the budget to help pay your way. If not, try and make room in your personal budget for one of these events. Everyone’s needs and preferences are different, so do some research as to what’s out there, but to just name a few, here are some that I have found beneficial:
• Progressive Youth Ministry http://pym.thejopagroup.com
• National Youth Workers Conference http://nywc.com
• Oasis: A Spiritual Retreat for Youth Ministers http://www.cbfymn.org/event-1957208
I’ve had too many conversations with youth ministry peers who express a sense of feeling along in their ministry. If that’s true for you, even on occasion, I hope you have found something in this post that will help move you forward. It’s a great-wide-world of youth ministry out there, and we all need help and support to keep us going.
Let me know if I can do anything for you! Grace and Peace.