Written by Aaron Helman
Ten years ago, I was a single guy, a college student, an apartment dweller…
…and a rookie youth minister who was pretty sure he knew everything.
In retrospect, I’d have to admit:
I was a moron.
I tried my best to minister to students and their families. I went to conferences and read books.
But the most important lessons I learned were the ones I started to figure out once I had kids of my own.
I learned to work with parents differently once I became a parent myself.
Looking back on my early ministry, I did things that would have infuriated me had I been a parent of a student in my youth group. Guess I’m just lucky that the people around me were full of patience and grace.
But as I think about parents (and myself), I realize that most people who are upset won’t lash out you. They’ll just decide not to be involved. And looking back, I can understand why many of our families decided not to be involved.
Hearing about my mistakes might help you avoid them in your youth ministry.
They’re a window to help you better understanding parents – their everyday lives and struggles.
You might be a single youth ministry leader…and this speaks directly to your situation.
Or you might be a parent and never really thought about some of this stuff.
Either way, there is a lot to learn.
Three things I learned about youth ministry since I had kids of my own:
1. Sometimes it’s a real pain to drive your kids around.
I wanted students to be at church on Sunday morning, youth group Sunday night, Bible study Wednesday night, and at a prayer meeting on Friday morning. For some of our families, that meant I was asking parents to spend as much as three hours a week just driving their kids around.
I’ve found that personally, this is especially trying during the winter months, when it’s dark at 5:30, but Bible study doesn’t start until 7:00.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t do those kinds of events – they were all good things. But instead of jumping to judgment when a parent is a few minutes late, try on a little empathy. Usually parents really are trying their best.
2. I don’t have time to read EVERYTHING that comes my way.
My kids bring home at least a dozen papers from school every single day. Combine that with the 60+ emails that I process daily, and the mailbox that’s full of bills and offers and appointment reminder postcards…
…and it’s a miracle I can recall anything at the end of the day.
If you’re sending a single, bland invitation to any youth group event; don’t be surprised if it doesn’t get noticed or remembered, especially if it looks like any of the dozens of pieces of junk mail I get every day.
And if it’s really important, just call me or talk to me. Or send me a personal email.
3. Keeping a family schedule is a nightmare.
Sometimes it’s hard to get students loaded up into the car on time. Sometimes I just miss the communication. And other times, I just totally forget.
Between school functions, Christmas programs, track practice, haircuts, dentist appointments, friends’ baby showers, and the youth group calendar, it’s not surprising that so many people just forget that we moved the event to Sunday afternoon instead of Sunday night.
Usually, this isn’t a function of someone failing to prioritize their child’s faith life; it’s a family with a chaotic, busy life just doing their best and occasionally dropping something.
In fact, that’s been my experience as a full-time youth worker, husband, and father-of-three. Family life is busy, chaotic, often overwhelming, and it seems like someone is always sick.
This is what I learned more than anything else, and if you’re a youth worker who doesn’t have a family yet; I hope you’ll look closely at this next paragraph.
Your families are trying to juggle a dozen balls at once. Sometimes they drop one, but it’s not because they’re not trying their best.
Found this helpful? Read 3 Surefire Ways to Lose the Trust of Parents
Aaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”