Thursday, November 04, 2010

Old Youth Workers Never Die | Finding Your Way in a New Place

I took a new youth pastorate [and] I am excited, sad, and nervous all in one! Every blog I read has a pretty jaded stance on leaving churches, going to new churches etc. Do you have any advice for me?

Hey John; nice to hear from you. Congratulations on your new position. 

And condolences… I certainly know the grief of leaving behind a church in which I was nurtured and a group of kids I loved. I think it takes time to process that and learn everything it means. 

Off the top of my head...

If there’s already a going youth ministry concern at your new location, there will be assumptions and expectations about roles and programs. Find out what those are and evaluate how to honor those who came before you even as you look for ways to improve on their work. If there’s something you believe needs to go away, think about whether you can, 1) just let it die by leaving it off the calendar going forward or 2) devise something better to replace it. 

Listen as deeply as you can to find out what’s important to people. Don’t pick unnecessary fights. Where you believe change is necessary, act like a shepherd rather than a cowboy (sheep are led, cows are driven).

If there’s not much going on already, introduce new things with care. You’re new culture may or may not embrace things that killed where you were before. I would recommend thinking less about building and more about growing.

In either event, I think relationships are more important than programs (I think programs are at their best when they feed into relationships between kids and you and other caring adults).

For a variety of reasons, I think you’ll probably find older kids are tougher to connect with at a deep level than younger ones in your first year. I wouldn’t write the older ones off in any way, but I also wouldn’t blame them for being slow to come alongside and I wouldn’t beat myself up about it.

Check your plans against the church calendar as well as the schools’ calendars. You’ll build trust with your new team by respecting what’s already identified as important in the community.

If there’s no Youth Sunday, don’t start one. See what you can do to add the voices of adolescents into the regular worship of the church — praying and reading scripture as if they were real members of the community and not school children putting on a show.

If there’s no committee of adults ready to advise and support you, gather one soon. It doesn’t need to be official and it probably shouldn’t be too large. Conduct the group in way that gives them credit for being there before you arrived (and they may well be there after you’re gone). Talk philosophy with them. Refine your thinking and communication as you talk with them. Tell them what you want to accomplish and ask them to help you troubleshoot and accomplish your goals. 

If there are no adult volunteers in youth ministry, start recruiting and training and nurturing some as soon as possible. I think, How to Volunteer Like a Pro, might be useful ; -)

In the big picture, I think it takes a year to get one foot on the ground and another year to get the other down. Then you’re ready to run in year three and beyond.

There’s more to be said, but I may already have offered more answer than you had question… 

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