This summer my group and I were preparing to make the long trek back to our rooms when I spotted one of my biggest pet peeves in the world: the irresponsible youth minister. He had chosen to demonstrate his unprofessionalism by jamming nine of his students in an SUV and then topped it off by riding on top of the vehicle with his legs hanging in the sun roof. I did not hear any ambulances in the next few minutes so I assume that he made it down the incredibly steep mountain just fine, but damage was still done.
There is a difficult balance that all student ministers must manage. We want to be cool, hip, and laid back. However, we also want to be respected and trusted. Unfortunately, in trying to develop our appeal to our students, we tend to lose our influence with the parents and church leadership. The sad part is that our lack of professionalism so often diminishes our effectiveness in ministry. When it comes to acting professionally in ministry, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Being young is not an excuse. This is the regular excuse that is offered for why youth ministers tend to do really stupid things. I’m not sure why this would work in our ministry context when it would never fly in most professional careers. Imagine if a young doctor or young accountant showed up whenever he or she wanted to. Imagine if they were the people doing wild and crazy things in the office during business hours or in staff meetings. How long would they have a job? Why is our standard for accountants, store managers, or lawyers higher than our standard for ministers?
2. Being a minister means setting an example. In addition to the fact that you are teaching and living out the gospel, you are also setting an example for your students. You are responsible for showing your students what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus. This means that you must have personal standards that reflect faith in Christ. It also means understanding that students are always watching you whether you are online or at a football game.
3. Just because you work with teenagers does not mean that you need to act like one. Again, there is a difficult balance when it comes to working with teenagers. I love to do some of the things that my students do like go to high school football games or play Call of Duty online. I also realize that things that teenagers like to do such as pranks, breaking traffic laws, and listening to profane music are pretty much off-limits if I want to have influence.
4. Ministry jobs are actual jobs. If you want to get paid and desire job security, it would probably be great to complete your job related tasks. While ministry means hanging out and preaching the gospel, it also means planning, paperwork, and communicating. If you don’t want to work in an office, become a volunteer. I get so tired of hearing about youth ministers who are the class clowns of their church staffs. Wouldn’t it be great if the student minister was the most organized one on staff? Let’s raise the bar a little bit.