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What Matters Most to Students

The grind of youth ministry is unlike most jobs. Late night messages from a student in crisis, overnight events, ski trips, retreats, parties, recruiting and training volunteers to name just a few. For lots of us, another part of our work involves connecting with other youth pastors through networking, social media, conferences and speaking events, all of which make an already full schedule even busier. It is so easy to get caught up in all sorts of things that are peripheral to the job, and can come at the cost of the students we are entrusted to lead. This fall, I have been really focused on being available to connect with as many kids as possible each week. Prioritizing my work in the morning and leaving the last few hours of my day for students has been life giving for myself, and, I pray, the same for the students.

Those times just sitting with a student, treating them to a coffee, focused on them, hearing their heart, hearing their struggles and encouraging them is powerful, and, in my mind, a large part of what youth ministry is about. I know that an adult taking time out of their busy schedule was a huge moment in my story, and I pray that I can create spaces for the same thing to happen in our ministry. Leaving a series of back-to-back meetings at our local McDonald’s yesterday, I was once again reminded of the things that truly matter to our students and reminded of the things that don’t really matter.

What doesn’t matter to students:

1—Who follows/mentions us on Twitter.

2—What conference or event we spoke at on the weekend.

3—How many people read the things that we write.

What does matter to them:

1—That we love Jesus and passionately model that relationship to them.

2—That we sincerely care about their life and their story. We know their past, but remind them of the future they have in Christ.

3—That we encourage them and pray for them often, and they know we are for them and have their back.

4—That they don’t feel like a burden, and when we meet them, we are focused and nothing else matters.

In the midst of opportunities and distractions, it’s so easy to forget that the students that we lead aren’t very concerned about all the peripheral stuff. These things are important and valuable, but they need to be secondary to our primary call to pastor our students. What our students need from us is to pastor and lead them, to accept them and encourage them, to be there when we say we will and passionately shepherd them. Our integrity to speak about leadership is rooted in us being healthy, rooted leaders at the local church level working in the trenches.