I was a youth pastor for 16 years and for the past four years I’ve continued to work with hundreds of youth pastors through Youthmark and networking. All told, I’m two decades into this youth ministry adventure. My outlook on the student ministry culture certainly took on different perspectives during these years. From the rookie years to the “seasoned veteran” years (which, in youth ministry, takes place around your late 20’s), I have consistently looked back and wondered, “what if?”
I thought I’d jot a few of these “what ifs” down, perhaps just to encourage others. Maybe I’ll come back to some more “what ifs” later, but here are five that stand out to me right now.
1. What if I would have set a better example of peer-to-peer evangelism instead of using pastor-to-youth as my evangelism excuse? [I likely would have discovered that students have the same insecurities and fears I had and I would have begun engaging in and then training others for real-life, relational (with words) evangelism earlier].
2. What if I would have known at an earlier stage that “youth ministry” is actually student, parent, family, peer and church ministry? [I certainly would have had better volunteerism, more parent support and I likely would have felt more respected by the adults in the church rather than alienating others with the “I must prove myself to them” attitude I think I adopted].
3. What if I would have known that putting in more hours, working more days and trying to please as many as possible would NOT impress anyone other than myself? [I would have likely had a better relationship with those in authority over me instead of secretly wishing that they all would notice the hours, days and efforts so that I’d get a raise].
4. What if I would have fallen in love with coffee earlier in my youth pastorate? [I’d likely be dead from caffeine overdose… or more people would know Jesus, as the coffee shop has become one of my primary evangelism outlets]
5. What if I recruited adults to pray with our students instead of just praying for our students? [Disclaimer: I had many adults involved with our teens… but not nearly enough! This honestly is my #1 “what if?” And here is my answer: I believe that we’d see the national statistics of up to 85% of students leaving the church flipped. I believe that we’d see students and adults begin to understand the truth of 1 Corinthians 12–we are one body, many parts and all the parts are needed and I believe we’d see MANY more adults not intimidated by the teen population and vice-versa. I believe that our Sunday morning experience would look and feel way more familial and way more welcoming!]
Honestly, most of this ties into that last one. I wish I would have had someone investing in me at a deeper level. What if someone was praying with me and not just for me? I wish something like Pray21 would have been around 15, even 10 years ago. At the risk of touting product over blog content, I want to urge folks to check this thing out. Team students up with caring adults (even get the mentor for pay the $10 or so for both books) and get this praying with youth thing started!