Who Cares if You’re “Youth Ministry Famous”?

Josh Griffin at More Than Dodgeball wrote a post last week asking the question “Who Cares if You Are a ‘Youth Ministry Lifer’ or Not?” He raises some great thoughts for youth ministers to ponder (we do ponder, you know) regarding a struggle that many of us have: the question of how long to stay in youth ministry, and in what capacity. The post also brought to mind another struggle that I see in youth ministry: a desire to be “famous”. It seems a lot of us want to be known for something – a great event, a book or two, some great video or other resources we’ve produced, the massive size of our group or the coolest youth room/building around… It doesn’t really matter, we just want to be known as that guy. Sometimes, that gets in the way of making a deeper impact.

What if you can't fill these seats with the drop of your name? Does it matter?
What if you can’t fill these seats with the drop of your name? Does it matter?
(Img via Patrick Hajzler at RGBstock)

Let’s back up a minute. Look around the taco shop or coffee bell or mcWhatever you’re sitting in and ask anyone to tell you about a youth pastor. I’ll bet you a McDouble they’re not going to tell you about anyone you might think of as a famous youth pastor. Outside of youth ministry world, we’re pretty much all anonymous. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for youth ministry. What they may be able to tell you about is a youth leader who impacted their own life. So instead of aiming for the giant platform to amplify your considerable gifts, set your sites on impacting a few students up close and personal. Disciple them to make disciples and watch God multiply His message. In the process, maybe he’ll bring about a stage and a measure of notoriety – or maybe not. If He does, make sure to turn the accolades toward the greatness of His Name, not yours. But if He doesn’t, faithfully trust that He knows what He’s doing and keep following His lead into students’ lives. Here are some ideas for making an impact that goes beyond the stage:

  1. Lead a small group committed to discipleship. Be careful not to set this up as some elite clan in your student ministry, but follow Jesus’ lead in choosing 2 or 3 students with whom you’re a little more intensely involved. Dig deeply into the Bible together and help each other put God’s Word into practice.
  2. Let students into your lives. One of my favorite youth ministry memories is catching a kid off guard while I was putting my daughter to bed. He was hanging out at our house as I tucked her in. I pulled the blankets up, asked him to pray, and bowed my head. Before he realized the potential awkwardness or that he might want to say ‘no’, he was praying for my little girl and our family with us. I hope he still does the same thing with his little girls!
  3. Take a few kids out for a soda once in a while. I have two seniors graduating this year who formed a tandem early in life that would send more Sunday School teachers into early retirement than public school budget cuts. Obviously, I’m exaggerating, but I could see very early on that these two had enough energy to power Justin Bieber’s light show. They come from great families and I have no doubt that they’d both still be involved without my invitation to the shiny diner, but they still remember a day years ago that I picked them up after school and we sat and ate cheesy fries together. One of them recently asked me, out of the blue, “Why’d you take us out that day?” Because it works! Making that connection has helped me lead them to put their energy into creative, Kingdom work instead of testing the limits of humanity’s patience.
  4. Never underestimate the power of the little things. Last week, a former student who is now a youth minister related to me the story of how he recently met his childhood sports hero, Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. He’d written the NFL player a short letter several months before thanking him for his involvement in Samaritan’s Feet, a ministry that gives shoes to people that need them. At a recent pre-game foot washing and shoe distribution event in Kansas City, my friend was helping someone with some new shoes when Smith came in. “You’re here! It’s you! You’re the one that sent that letter.” If a short note of encouragement can make enough of an impact on an NFL player that he keeps it through training camp and remembers it in December, what do you think a short note like that could do for an 8th grader trying to find something, anything to tell them that they matter?

Don’t settle for “sorta-kinda-almost famous in the youth ministry bubble.”

What other ways are you precision aiming for a deeper impact?

2 Replies to “Who Cares if You’re “Youth Ministry Famous”?”

  1. For me, it’s super easy to ‘hang’ with kids and not have any intentional conversations. I think it’s the ‘I want to be their friend and not step on their toes’ syndrome. We need to be with kids, have fun with them, and I think they need to know that we don’t always have to have the soul-exposing, tear-jerking serious talks. But we also can’t swing the full other way and never talk about what is really important with them. For many of my kids, they don’t have homes where the parents are doing really anything with their kids on the spiritual guidance/discipleship front. We are dealing with eternaty, we need to have those intentional talks.

    1. It’s always a challenge to avoid a kind of over-correcting. Making sure your students know they are loved goes a long way, though, toward helping us make the most of every situation.

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