Maybe it’s because I majored in history in college, but I’m always very much aware of the people who have gone before me in my job, my organization or my ministry. Even in my last church in The Netherlands, where I was the first ‘formal’ youth pastor, I knew that the church had decades of history in youth ministry done by volunteers.
It’s tempting as a new youth pastor to want to start fresh, wipe the slate clean and pretty much delete the past. That’s even more the case in churches with a difficult history, or where your predecessor(s) were fired. Still, it’s important to honor your youth group’s history.
You don’t need to dwell in the past, but it can be beneficial for you and your ministry to honor that past:
1. It helps you to stay humble.
Knowing the past of your youth group will help you stay humble. You will see the successes and mistakes from the past, knowing that you can learn from both. Both giants and dwarfs have gone before you, and giants and dwarfs will come after you. Honoring those before you shows humility.
2. It shows the bigger picture.
My son does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and when you step into the BJJ gym, there are pictures everywhere of the history of the place. Eddie, the current owner and ‘professor’ (the BJJ term for the teacher), isn’t the first owner of the place, which has existed for years. He doesn’t hide that, in fact he celebrates the victories of previous owners as well with pictures of their famous fights and wins. You’ll find pictures of the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well, the Gracie family. Eddie’s motto is ‘Know Your Lineage’ and it reflects well on him.
It helps to remind yourself and others that the ministry didn’t start with you, nor will it stop with you. The deep realization that neither God nor the ministry depends on you for success is good for your self-worth, contradicting as it may sound.
3. It gives cause for celebration.
Seeing God’s faithfulness in the history of your ministry gives cause for celebration. Seeing generation after generation choose to follow Jesus is an awesome reminder that God is at work—even if we don’t always see it.
How to Honor Your Youth Group’s History
Here are a few practical ideas to honor the past:
- Keep an archive as best as possible. I kept digital—and where necessary printed—copies of pictures, designs, invites, flyers, anything we created or made in the ministry. The digital files were stored on an external hard disk, sorted by year and month. The paper copies were in a file, sorted the same way. When I left my last job, I handed over everything to my successor. The archive was never mine (though I did make copies of many pictures for my own memories); it belonged to the ministry.
- Use your best designs to decorate your youth room. Every year, we chose some awesome designs for youth services or other events and printed them on A3 to hang in the youth room. It was a great ‘thank you’ to the designers (students themselves) and it helped celebrate our ‘successes.’
- We also made A3 posters of the best pictures of the year, both funny ones, beautiful ones or ones from events that somehow turned out to be extra blessed.
- Something else we tried was to print paper placemats with ‘best of …’ pictures and trivia whenever he had an event where we would eat together. It included old pictures from current church members when they were teens, asking the students to identify them.
- Don’t claim successes you don’t ‘own.’ A change started by my predecessor in a youth ministry turned out to be a brilliant move. Even though he made many mistakes and his departure was far from ideal, I did credit him with that idea.
- Always speak positively about your predecessors. It’s easy to slam them, especially when they’ve made well-known mistakes. But especially if you weren’t there, don’t do it. It’s not your job to judge.
Can you think of anything else you could do to honor the history of your youth group?