10 Truths Youth Directors Should Adopt in Their Churches

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From cleaning toilets, to overspending, to crossing the generation gap, there are more than a few ways for leaders of youth to strengthen their work in their churches. Here are the top ten tips for youth directors:

1. Start cleaning toilets, it isn’t below you.

When you are the youth director, your job description gets piled on. Because many youth directors are young, they get lots of physically taxing jobs, and an assortment of others just for fun. Running the video projector in worship, driving the church bus, and even cleaning toilets. But cleaning toilets isn’t below you (I cleaned one at Midwinter 1!) Count it a joy to be counted worthy to do even mundane tasks for The Lord because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.58 says, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”

2. Accepting false blame can work to your advantage.

“What?” you say. “Why would being falsely blamed be good?!” Most things that get broken get blamed on the youth of the church anyway. That’s just the way things go, but use this to your advantage. Use this as a tool to recruit more sponsors, more space, and more financial resources to adapt to your expanding ministry. Accept the false blame and take it on the chin. Allow wrongs to come your way and rejoice like the disciples did in Acts 5.41, “The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.”

3. Fill the pews with students that dress like it’s Halloween, but it’s gonna you get you in trouble!

You’ve seen those kids with spiky hair, leather jackets and pierced tongues? Well those are just the kind of kids I believe Jesus would hang out with the most. And those are the exact students you need in your church. Invite them in, put them in the front pew, and wait for the poop to hit the fan. Then you will have a chance to talk about the parable Jesus taught in Matthew 22.8-10. “The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor.  Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. This will challenge the church to view sinners through God’s eyes rather than our own.

4. Don’t work eight hours a day in the office, it will greatly diminish your effectiveness.

The myth of religious productivity tells us that if you remain at your desk, in an office, you will be an effective youth director. I don’t know why we still listen to this 1950’s bit of nonsense. Jesus certainly didn’t stay in the Temple and neither should you remain in your office. The young people we are called to love are outside the walls of the church and remaining inside for 40 hours a week will undoubtedly diminish the souls you win for Christ. Matthew 9.35 says, “Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.”

5. Realize that social media isn’t as social as you might imagine.

It’s a false belief that as we stay connected on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are actually building relationships with students. This is simply untrue. Our teenage generation will one day awaken to social awkwardness as they attempt to have conversations with a human face rather than a computer screen. Social media is great for getting ideas started, generating conversations, and promoting events. But loving people means meeting them face to face. Social media lacks the personal touch while giving the impression that we are creating intimacy through texting. As Paul said in Romans 1.11-12, “For I long to see you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.”

6. Take a risk because friendship evangelism just plain works.

Youth directors, remember building your program takes time. Just as I believe our pastors should remain in appointments longer to instill trust within local congregations, so youth directors need time to build trust among students and families. The average stay of a youth director is 18 months, which is foolishness. Don’t ask God, “What’s next?” Rather ask God, “What’s now?” Be present where you are and grow up that which God has begun in your midst. Befriend students, go to games, show up at school lunches, and serve students and their families. Don’t give a guilt trip for non-youth-group-attenders. Love students as Christ loved the Church. Mark 10.45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

7. Cross the generation gap because seniors in your church really do want you to succeed.

A common misunderstanding among youth directors is that seniors don’t want kids around. Whereas not many people enjoy screaming kids running in the sanctuary and church halls, older people love children. I know it’s hard to believe, but these seniors were once children themselves! Older people see the future of the church by looking at the youth and children. This is one reason why we see so many youth and children’s buildings being constructed in our churches. Seniors are the top financial givers and prayer warriors in our churches. Seek their help in helping reach more students for Christ. 2 John 1.4 says, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.”

8. Spend more than you budget.

If anyone told you I wrote this, I’m denying it right off! Now I speak from experience of someone who inadvertently spends more then I take in. (And I often get in trouble for it.) I don’t do it on purpose, but sometimes I do it because of my purpose. It’s my goal to reach youth for Christ and to provide opportunities for youth groups to attend events that help them grow in their love for Jesus. Is there any better investment than this? Save money on clergy moving expenses and spend it on the kids! If God tells me not to put a limit on a retreat and 400 students show up — even knowing I am going to end up in the red — I still do it. Why? Because I want to get in trouble? Heck no! I do it because I am called to echo the words of Jesus in Matthew 28.19-20 when he said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  I believe every soul is worth more than the money is takes to save that soul.

9. Accept that Jesus cares much more about your students than you do.

It’s hard to believe for a youth director that someone could love your kids as much as you do, but Jesus does. He loves those students way more than we could ever hope to or imagine. He knows their sins, their faults and their failures. He cares for their needs, for the alcoholic dad and the non-attentive mom. Often my heart breaks over the pain in the lives of students that I meet. And when I hear their stories, I just want to take them home. But the Good News of the Gospel is this — “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3.16. God loves our students way more than we do!

10. Don’t try to save the world or you’ll get a messianic complex.

Sometimes youth ministry is tiring. We are underpaid and overworked. We are the low man (or woman) on the totem pole. We get the smallest office (which is good!) and we often feel misunderstood (which is bad.) And on top of that, our flock is a bunch of passion-filled, hormone-driven, adrenaline-filled-junkies who want to change the world and expect us to help! We put pressure on ourselves to be extra holy, truly sanctified, and Biblical experts. But the truth of the matter is this — there is one Savior, and we aren’t it. Admitting our faults and acknowledging our weakness only makes us rely upon The Lord even more. As 2 Corinthians 12.9 says, “Each time Jesus said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

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Rusty Freeman is a seventh-generation Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. Since 2000 he has served as the Director of Youth Ministries for the Southwest Texas Conference. His position includes helping cast and carry out the vision for the students of the conference. Rusty is passionate about reaching youth for Christ through camps and retreats. He loves to inspire and equip those whose gifts lead them toward full-time vocational ministry. For more information about Rusty or the SWTC youth events please visit Reachingyouth.org.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I read this this morning and the third point bothers me greatly, and has all day. I understand what the purpose is, but forced change can be devastating. I know because I was the hit and run victim of one zealous pastor’s understanding of what needed to change; I know what it feels like to have the very ground I am standing on just ripped out from under me. Although I have come to understand why the pastor was doing what he was doing, it has greatly affected my relationship with the church because in going to church, it feels like I am returning to the scene of the mugging; my defenses go up. So please rethink what you are saying.
    Pick your battles because what you are suggesting in number three would probably jeopardize your 7th point. There is a whole other older generation brought up under a different code when it comes to worship and what is appropriate dress for worship–and I am part of that generation–and we should not have to apologize for what we were taught; what became ingrained in us from a lifetime of habit. But that does not mean we are not teachable:
    “I learned a long time ago that it is not my role or responsibility to change someone else, but to create safe environment where radical change can occur. Change should always be a willing choice, otherwise it won’t last, or it does violence to the person”.–Dan Dick, Wisconsin Annual Conference, UMC
    “Are you persuaded you se more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so by plain proof of scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread and therefore am unwilling to leave it, labor with me a little; take me by the hand and lead me as I am able to bear.”–John Wesley

    • So Betsy you are saying don’t go after those youth and bring them into the church because it might hurt the older members feelings…. I wonder how the pharisees felt when Jesus sat at the tables and homes of Tax collectors and “sinners”

      • No. that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is I have experienced forced heavy handed change that was personally devastating. There are ways to bring about change that are devastating to a community and the individuals in it and there are ways to bring about change that is bridge building and creates growth for everyone and shows respect for those that have gone before. Figure out some other way to introduce said youth into the sphere of the people than making it an act of defiance during worship. After all, humility is the name of the game.
        I apologize if this comes across harsh, but it is an extremely sore subject with me.

        • It is not being done as an act of defiance. It’s is being done as an act of obedience to Jesus commands. Here it is simply stating you will most likely get slack for it and when that happens it gives you an opportunity to speak biblical truth.

          • And when did Jesus ever force somebody to accept his teachings? When did he ever assemble a group of disenfranchised and force a Pharisee or anybody to sit down with them? He taught, he invited people into a better life but I can not think of one time he ever forced anybody into his way of thinking. He wanted it to be a willing choice.
            Call it defiance or not, but in many churches, if you do what is suggested in the third point all you are going to get is people digging in their heels. I know, because I have been on the receiving end of such tactics. And it pushed me out of the church.
            The rest of my story is that at age 59, after being a good Methodist all of my life I learned the hard lesson that I had never heard the gospel in its entirety–although I had a strong sense of who God is, I was dumb as a post when it came to truly understanding who God is and who I am; it has only been a year since I have understood that I, as an individual am folded into God’s plan of salvation. I was stunned to learn that what, to me had always felt like rocket science was not; it had felt like rocket science because of the ambiguity of the message. The truth is, most people sitting in church are not grounded in the gospel and have not experienced its transformative power. And you don’t have to search too far on the internet to find many, many people saying the same thing. Timothy Tennet very recently wrote an article saying that very thing, calling for gospel clarity within the church–you can access it through seedbed voices.
            The UMC has retained a lot of the doing, but for people of my generation, the teaching of the reason behind the doing was lost a long time ago. If you want people to change, then teach them about a triune God of holy love; an unfathomable God of mystery who is determined to possess each and every one of us, including “me”. That is what Wesley did and Methodism was born when people then asked, “What does this mean for my life?” That is also what Paul and Jesus did–first there was a message….

          • fI you want a dead on assessment of the church I spent a lifetime in, read Harley Scalf’s article, “Stop Inviting People to Church” in the Wesleyan Accent portion of seedbed.

          • I never once said anything about Jesus forcing his issue. Just what he actually did. And how when that did cause people to talk it gave him another opportunity for ministry and to spread biblical truth.

    • I have two comments to make. First, I imagine that the prostitutes Jesus sat and ate with stopped dressing like prostitutes after they met Jesus. Second, Jesus was worried about zeal which lead to mere outward transformation and not a transformation of the heart. So he does criticize the pharisees for there outward zeal for the law which is not accompanied by an inward religion of the heart. As a young person (31) who tends to land on the casual side of dressing up for worship, my heart is being transformed by the Lord even if my wardrobe is not.

      • After raising 3 teenage children I gave up to a certain extent on the dress battle for church and settled for clean, neat, casual. It was hard work to shift my thinking but I decided it was better to have them there casual than not at all. Tattoos and piercings are not a bridge I have had to cross yet in church–and it would be hard and would be a major distraction for me during worship. But I am open to finding middle ground as long as I am included in the discussion.
        What you are incapable of understanding is that I am a product of a whole different type of upbringing and how hard it is for me to turn on a dime. There are things that are being ingrained in you that you are not even aware of. They are becoming your silent friends that give you stability. Save this conversation and re-read it in another 30 years and you will understand. :0)

        “Are you persuaded you se more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so by plain proof of scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread and therefore am unwilling to leave it, labor with me a little; take me by the hand and lead me as I am able to bear.”–John Wesley

      • Last fall, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I allowed my daughter to dye my hair Smurf blue. I waited until Sunday afternoon to do it so it would have a week to fade before I went back to church because I knew people would be aghast at what I had done and I did not want to be a distraction.

      • I also realize that for those of a previous generation, outward zeal and inward religion were so interrelated that to dress formal to a worship service was an authentic sign of one’s own inward religion of the heart. This may no longer be the case for those of my generation but I do challenge people of my age to approach worship in a spirit of reverence lest we forget who it is we have come to worship.

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