Even in the present state of things–with COVID-19 and certain states being under “stay at home” orders–churches are still hiring. Some are even hiring “online pastors” because of the current realities affecting ministries. That means that there are many people who are applying and being hired at churches.
Being hired at a new church is challenging on its own, but then you add in this new mix of social distancing and trying to connect electronically, and it is increasingly difficult. So what do we do?
Today, I would like to provide some tips and suggestions for new youth pastors in any season and then next week my desire will be to share tips for new youth pastors in our current circumstances. I would love to dialogue with anyone on this topic, especially those of you who are starting fresh in this new season.
This is huge because it will give you insight you may not have had before. Often when you candidate you don’t get to meet everyone and you don’t get to have all the conversations that you may need. So ask questions. Talk to your students and ask them what they would want to see at youth group. Ask them what they value and desire. Ask what would encourage their friends to come. Engage with parents and ask them what resources would be helpful. Ask how you could better partner with and support them. Ask how you can better care for their students. Talk to your volunteers and ask them how you could better equip them. Ask them how they have been trained in the past and what would help them going forward. Ask them how you could best support, advocate for, and walk with them.
These questions and answers will give you insight into how to best care for your people and ultimately make you a better pastor. Asking questions, investing in people’s lives, and being willing to be challenged will help you to develop as a leader and value those you serve.
I think it is easy at times to come in and think we know what to do and how to do it. I don’t think this is out of pride or arrogance but out of a desire to show that we know what we are doing and prove to the church who hired us that they made the right choice. But often times that means we don’t listen well or heed advice. Let me encourage you to take time and listen to what others are saying and to value it.
This will also allow for you to learn about any so-called “sacred cows” that exist. These are things that are immensely important to the church, that are difficult or impossible to change. While you candidate, most churches will tell you that they don’t have one. All churches do, but sometimes leaders don’t even know they exist. By listening to people you will hear what they value and why they value it, which will help you to learn what is the “sacred cow” within the ministry and the church at large.
Engage with students, leaders, families, and church members.
This seems obvious because of what we do. We are pastors after all and part of our job is to engage with our people. But the truth is that sometimes it can be overwhelming in the beginning. Everyone wants to talk to the new pastor, everyone wants to know your plans for the ministry, everyone has their own ideas and agendas.
It can be taxing and draining, and there will be moments you may find yourself mentally disconnecting from conversations. Don’t allow that to happen. Engage with people and hear what they have to say. Be willing to value people and their thoughts. By doing this, it will allow for you to become more attune with what people are seeking from you, your ministry, and the church. This can allow for you to become a better minister to them.
Go out into the community.
I think this is one that we all know and value, but if we are honest when we move to a new place sometimes we focus on settling in. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about our new community and the people in it, but sometimes we just hunker down as we settle into our role. But let me encourage you to engage with the community as much as you can. Go to the local supermarket, check out the local middle school or high school football game, visit local restaurants, hit up local parks. By doing this you are not only gaining the lay of the land, you are also showing that you are a part of the community and value it. You may even have church members stop and greet you which will help you build relationships.
This is a huge asset to anyone in any position, but if I am being honest it doesn’t happen enough in ministry. Youth workers are beginning to change that, and I want to encourage you to be a part of a local network as best you can. As you start in a new position, reach out to other youth pastors in the area and seek to grab coffee or lunch with them. Talk to them about what has worked for them, ask questions about the community and the area, be willing to partner with them for the sake of the Gospel. In doing all of this you are building friendships, confidantes, and support networks to help you succeed in your ministry.
Share your purpose and vision.
This is huge for any new youth pastor. In a new ministry it is easy to assume that everyone knows what you are about and the direction you want to take the ministry. But the reality is that there will be those who don’t, and those who need to continue to hear it over and over. While you have had the time to think through and plan because of the hiring process, other people need time to hear, process, and jump on board. So make sure to drip this into all of your communications and to share it with families, students, leaders, and church staff.
Communication is key. That is something everyone should remember, and in a new position it is important to make sure you communicate often and clearly. Make sure to engage with your leaders, students, and families and use that time to communicate what you want them to hear. Do not assume that if you say it once or twice everyone will remember what you said. Over communicate not because people don’t get it, but because it helps them to be on the same page with you.
Empower your volunteers.
Your volunteers are key to your ministry growing and being sustained. Without them your ministry will not function. So make sure to encourage and empower them. Let leaders utilize their gifts and strengths. Encourage them when you see them doing what God has gifted them to do. Be free with your role and allow leaders to step up and serve. One of the things I love to do is be open with the stage. I don’t have to speak each week, in fact my students listen more when their leaders share. This is huge because it allows for multiple voices to be heard and valued, and it affirms and builds up leaders who are using their gifts. Find out your leaders’ strengths and passions and put them into practical use.
This is hugely important for all pastors and youth workers. Often we jump into a new position and we go as hard and as fast as we can. We go to all the events, attend all the meetings, work long hours, throw awesome outreaches, and begin to burn through all the reserves that we have.
This type of approach may work in the beginning, but ultimately it will leave you exhausted and burned out. It will also frustrate your volunteers and hurt your relationship with your family. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and putting your priorities in order. Often we think the ministry comes first, but the reality is the order should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, and then our relationship with the ministry. Setting and enforcing boundaries allows us to focus on priorities, take care of ourselves, and be present for others.
I like what you said about using online ministries while COVID is going. I think that is useful for getting the Word out. I’ll have to consider trying to find more online minsters who can help during shutdowns.