All jobs have struggles and joys. Sometimes it is just good to hear that others struggle with you in the same trenches of youth ministry. I hope these help you feel a little less alone today, as we explore…
“Top 10 frustrations of youth ministry”
Felicia Fox is the Associate Pastor of Students & Families at First Baptist Mount Olive. She is a graduate of the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University. She enjoys helping young people see God in their everyday lives, painting, and playing with her three dogs.
Any job can have its frustrations even a job that’s built on God, pizza, basketball, and teenagers. Here’s a list of the top ten frustrations of being a woman in youth ministry. Some of these are gender specific but most are not.
10) Being a woman in youth ministry doesn’t mean I should also be in charge of all things food or hospitality related. I like to cook and eat but I really don’t have time to set out all of the food needed for an event. I’ve got to make sure my youth aren’t hanging off the rafters or sliding down the steps.
9) I care about my youth and who they are both inside and outside of the church. I love seeing them at their games, recitals, and other activities. I like going to most of these and would like to know about more. Telling me more than a day or an hour before the actual event is much appreciated.
8) Believe me when I tell you something is wrong with the church bus. I’ve driven it hundreds of miles to events. I may not be an expert but I can tell you the smoke coming from the tail pipe isn’t normal.
7) Some churches look at the youth group as a source of free labor. It is valuable for youth to be asked to help with activities. Don’t just give the youth group the jobs no one else wants to do. Youth are good at putting up tables and moving chairs but they can also be equally as good at other things too. When you use the youth just for manual labor you make the youth minister be the bad guy or girl. We are ultimately the ones who have to make sure it gets done.
6) I am more than a free babysitter or activity coordinator. I love laughing and playing with my youth but my focus is providing holy moments for them to meet God and grow. It would be great to have a conversation about our program that doesn’t turn into a list of fun stuff I should take them to do.
5) It is frustrating that most people have no idea what I actually do. It takes a lot of behind the scenes planning and preparing to have an effective youth ministry. Ask me about those things and what you can help do. Someone has to buy the 10,000 ping pong balls and duct tape for the lock-in. Someone has to make sure the videos are ready to play at the right time. Someone has to plan the lesson for the middle school Bible Study. Youth ministry doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work that most people never notice or understand.
4) Youth ministry has a lot of crazy moments. I’ve been known to do a few crazy dances, wear a crazy outfits, and act like a fool before. That doesn’t mean I’m not a professional. The folks who serve as youth ministers deserve as much respect as any other ministerial staff. Many of us have hours of education and training which we invest in church and teenagers. Jokes about how we only play for a living can be hurtful.
3) If you have a question or concern about the youth ministry talk to me. It’s not very helpful to hear about a potential issue from the grapevine of gossip in the church. I have an open door policy and so do many other youth ministers. Come talk to us. It may be a much needed conversation for all involved.
2) It can be frustrating when people imply this isn’t a grown up job. I’ve been in youth ministry for fourteen years. This isn’t something I’m doing until I get to be a senior pastor or until I grow up a little more. I’m in youth ministry because God has called and gifted me to it. By downplaying what I do you are actually saying that our youth aren’t as important as the adults in the church.
1) We always need volunteers. We cannot do this alone. It can be extremely frustrating to have to go out and beg for help. Youth ministers are busy and don’t have time to go personally ask twenty people to help to only be rejected by fifteen of those. If you care about the youth at your church sign up to help.
Youth ministry has its share of frustrations but it also has many blessings. When the frustrations seem to show up remember that you are not alone. Take comfort in the presence of God, reflect on the moments you have witnesses your youth grow in their faith, know that you are being prayed for, and take time to laugh.
Our Second writer this week has requested to remain anonymous and we respect that.
When I think about the top frustrations of youth ministry, I realize that frustration goes hand-in-hand with unmet expectations. I think most of us probably go into ministry with the starry-eyed notion that we will get to do exactly what we are gifted to do and deeply appreciated for it by our church, our pastor, and our families, and that we will stay completely focused on students and our relationship with God. That illusion usually only lasts for a couple minutes.
So in my almost 18 years of paid church ministry, here is the top ten list of frustrations I have had in youth ministry… maybe some of them sound familiar:
- Event planning. I would have never guessed how much of being a youth minister requires being an event planner. Lock-ins, retreats, mission experiences, fundraisers, fellowships, outreach events… require reserving vans, accurately estimating attendance, collecting permission forms, putting down deposits to hold meeting places, recruiting chaperones, going over rules, designing t-shirts, and purchasing food. It’s frustrating when building relationships with students ends up taking a backseat to managing details for activities.
- Fundraising/budget. Like many youth ministries, it has been necessary to supplement my youth budget with fundraising. It’s frustrating when it feels like the needs for doing youth ministry with excellence are not fully funded… especially when other budget lines are larger. For example, my current budget for the year is $7000, but registrations for youth camp and the youth mission trip alone this summer exceed $12,000. Yes, many in my church are very generous and enjoy helping make these events affordable, but I don’t enjoy planning yard sales when it means I have to sacrifice family time or actual ministry (even if it is accompanied with the justification of preventing “entitlement” in our kids).
- Space. I feel fairly certain I can make some accurate guesses about the place your youth meet—it’s probably whatever location is farthest away from your worship space, it’s probably got old furniture or tvs no one else wanted, it smells funny, and there’s a big stain on the floor. I actually like my youth space pretty well; much of my frustration is that, even though it’s one of the larger rooms in my building, it’s not big enough for a growing group. And because it actually is one of the bigger spaces in the building, I have to share it with several other groups throughout the week, which limits what I can do with it. It’s my fault that I don’t really maximize my space better, but because we share it so often, it’s hard to trust it won’t be messed up by the next group that comes in.
- Volunteerism. Notice I said “volunteerism” instead of “volunteers.” I love my volunteers and am thankful for those caring adults who invest their lives into the next generation; however, these amazing few are often the exception. I think in general there is this prevailing attitude in church life that working with teenagers is something for someone else to do, after all “that’s what we pay you for.” It’s a well-established reality that, for students to have a faith that lasts beyond high school, there must be a whole host of caring adults in the community of faith intersecting the lives of young people. This requires the entire congregation to take ownership of the youth ministry.
- Competing for families. It’s hard to deny the frustration of having to compete for involvement. Not only do youth workers face the typical competition from traveling sports teams, trips to the lake, and endless rehearsals, tryouts and recitals, but I have also had the pain of losing families to other churches leaving for seemingly greener pastures (despite having invested years in their lives). When my expectations of priorities and commitments are not the same as those of our youth and their families, it can get disheartening.
- Weak children’s ministry/college ministry. I don’t want to throw anyone’s hard work under the bus because I know it has sometimes been my youth ministry that has fumbled handoffs, but it’s frustrating when a kid gets lost in the transitions. I get so disappointed when our children’s ministry can’t get a great kid to me before losing them. I don’t want to expand youth ministry any younger because of the huge maturity gap between the younger and older youth, but it stinks when these fifth and sixth graders are looking to get more involved but have a limited ministry investment. On the other hand, it breaks my heart to see a student graduate from youth ministry and then is unable to get connected at the next level of development at college or young adulthood.
- Fellow pastors and staff. Again, not to pile on anyone in particular, but I have struggled whenever there have been strained relationships in the staff. A discontent secretary or an unappreciated part-time ministry leader can make my job much harder. And as youth pastors, sometimes we’re the ones who end up getting stuck with lots of odd jobs when others drop the ball—printing bulletins, taking out the trash, finishing off last minute tech requests, driving the seniors to lunch. The worst was my relationship with my senior pastor at my last church; it was miserable. As great as my group of students and adult friendships within the church were, without a good relationship with my lead pastor, I struggled for years. It has made a huge difference having a good relationship and a high level of trust with the pastors at my current church.
- Other youth leaders in the community. Sometimes I get frustrated that it’s so hard for the youth leaders in my town to get together and affirm one another’s role in the lives of our students. In a world where there is so much competition, even among our churches, I wish that our youth leaders could set an example by being the exception. Instead, we typically operate all alone and miss out on the community and encouragement we could experience. In fact, a couple weeks ago I contacted ten other youth leaders in my county to get together for lunch… only one showed up. I know we’re busy, but still it’s sad.
- Balance with my family. In my attempt to try to meet all the expectations my church has for me, I am in danger of leaving my family frustrated. If I allow myself to be overcommitted to ministry-related obligations, there won’t be any time or energy left to invest in my own family. I have to have some very clear boundaries with the church, e.g. I very rarely come in on my day off, I watch how many nights I’m out during the week, I don’t rely on my wife to be my top volunteer, etc. It’s frustrating that in ministry I can’t do it all, but if I win at youth ministry and lose at being a good husband and a good father, then I’ve lost at the most important ministry I have.
- Students not living out their faith. You know that awkward moment when you spend a whole month teaching about the power of words and controlling your tongue and the next week come across your core students having a twitter-feud? Or the purity series and the gossip about inappropriate pics? Or even that series on sharing our faith conscientiously and with integrity and your teenager blasts her teacher, accusing him of hating God and Christians? Yeah, that’s fun. I can’t make my students’ choices for them, but it sure is frustrating when they seem to totally miss the point. There are few things more discouraging then when my students are just as unloving, selfish, consumeristic, thoughtless and uncommitted as the rest of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason I’ve been doing this for so long. As frustrating as it is when students whiffs on their faith, the life-giving joy I get when I see them connect the dots in their relationship with God or when they lovingly serve another person makes everything else worth it. I’m truly thankful for the tremendous encouragers that inspire me and, despite all the other stuff, I really love connecting young people with a real Jesus who loves them deeply.