Youth ministry can be hard, no doubt about it. One of the reasons is that ‘they’ often don’t get it.
They could be parents, church leaders, the pastor, church members, anyone really who doesn’t do what you do. And the fact that they’re not involved in youth ministry and as such, don’t get it, doesn’t keep them from voicing opinions. The fact that they don’t get it doesn’t mean they can’t offer you advice, correct you, or even criticize you.
Welcome to youth ministry.
I know dealing with this is frustrating and hard and makes you want to quit at times. If I had to list the top 10 things that discourage me in youth ministry, dealing with people who don’t know what they’re talking about and still interfere would be pretty high on my list.
Here’s the thing though. You can’t keep people from voicing an opinion or from criticizing you. I mean, you can try, but good luck with that.
What you can do is help people get it.
Youth ministry is a unique ministry in the church that is hard to understand for ‘outsiders’. So much of what we do is hard to see if you don’t observe us all week. There’s this meme going around on social media about these differences between what people think youth pastors do (lounge around all day, play dodgeball) and what youth workers actually do. It’s funny, but there’s a deep truth at the core. People don’t see what we do and form their own conclusions.
It’s those conclusions that are often the basis for feedback and advice. Or it’s those assumptions that cause people to act and react a certain way. A frustrated youth worker posted a message on social media that parents had dropped a student off two hours before an event began, assuming that she didn’t have anything better to do that arrive early as well and ‘babysit’ him. That assumption is because they don’t get it.
What you can do is help people get it.
You need to help people understand what it is that you do in youth ministry and what your youth ministry does as a whole. Transparency here is key.
How You Can Help Them Get It
Let’s look at a few things you can do to help your church understand what your youth ministry is all about:
- Communicate your ministry’s mission and vision every chance you get. This creates clarity over your priorities and goals and will help others understand why you do what you do, and choose not to do other things.
- Be clear about your schedule and hours. Parents, students, the church board, the senior pastor, everyone should know when you work and when you’re off. Communicating your Sabbath crystal clear is a first priority, but you can also let them know when you’re open to calls and visits and when you’re not.
- Communicate about how to spend your time. Granted, this one is a little more tricky, but it’s necessary. On the formal side you can keep a registration of your time and what you spend it on. I’ve kept a time sheet like this all the years I worked in the church and sent it to the board every month. It created complete transparency about what I do—and if they disagreed with my priorities, we could talk about that. Informally, make sure to share little snippets, like “I spent four hours on sermon prep today” or “Organizing a retreat is always a 20 hours a week job in the last two weeks before it takes place”.
- Share pictures and videos whenever possible. Make sure to do this with parents’ permission when it comes to their kids of course. The famous line that a picture is more than a thousand words is still very true, maybe even more than ever in the visual world we live in. The other side is to make sure you’re not posting any pictures (or any updates in general) on social media that affirm stereotypes or preconceived notions people already have. Be aware of what your posts and updates and stories communicate about what you do and about your ministry.
- Invite the pastor or church member to events, or to tag along as you do your thing. Open up the ministry to visitors so they can see for themselves if they want to.
- Share stories. Stories are one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to share what you do and why it matters. So share stories from your youth ministry, maybe changing the details or names to ensure privacy of those involved. People will remember your stories way better than any facts or data you share and it will help them get a realistic picture of your youth ministry.
- Be willing to be transparent and to explain yourself. Try to not judge people for jumping to conclusions and be willing to explain, and sometimes even defend yourself.
- Ask God to give you patience. Not kidding.
Do you recognize this ‘They just don’t get it’ issue? What about your job or your ministry are people not getting? How can you help them understand it better?