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The Top 5 Ministry Truths for Teens

A while back, I hosted our local youth pastor network again, and since I was in charge of the topic this week, I decided that after lunch, we’d just kick around this question: “What have you been learning about ministry to teens that might be a great reminder as we start a new year?” So, in prep for that discussion, I scribbled down the first five things that came to my mind:

#5. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF MOMENTUM.

Whether you’re planning a game, raising funds, giving a talk or just trying to build a healthy group identity, there is nothing like momentum. The best days and the biggest wins in life have come to those who have learned the fine art of knowing when to ditch an idea on the spot cuz it’s dying and when to load up a small fire with more fuel. Especially when working with students, perception is reality, and if the room feels dead, it is dead. Period. I can fight this fact or leverage it, but momentum moves people, and I’d much rather steer a moving crowd than try to resurrect a dead one. So as a new ministry year begins, I want to leverage all the momentum I can to make a difference. I’m on the hunt for stuff that is already moving in the direction that God wants our ministry and lives to go already.

#4. CHANGE IS MANDATORY.

I know it sounds cliche, but I have to constantly remind myself of this. No one likes change. Seriously, everyone resists it, and deep inside me, so do I. I like to sleep on my side of the bed. I like to eat what I like to eat. And so on. And yet, change is what moves us from mediocre to inspiring. In youth ministry, the big danger here is that the longer you stay in a job, the easier it is to coast and do what you’ve always done. But when something starts to slow down or stop working, are you willing to make the change that is needed even though it will be hard? For me, most recently this has prompted me to make an entire teaching shift in our high school group. On our weekend, we’re moving the lesson from one person giving a “sermon” to a new method where we teach the lesson from a discussion panel of three to four staff and students. I’m committing to trying new things to reach this constantly moving target we call the “teens in our culture.”

#3. LANGUAGE IS ABOUT THE TONGUE AND THE THUMB.

Speaking of change, oh my … teens today type or text 10 times more than they speak. When I was in high school, no one had a camera on them to snap a picture of friends eating lunch, and a “text” was a book you didn’t want to read for class. No more. Teens are a typing machine and the really odd thing is … they’ll type or text stuff they would NEVER say out of their mouth. There’s another world behind the thumbs of most teens than the one upon their tongue.

And for me … and James 3, this is a major problem. I don’t think I can create a healthy, God-honoring culture of teens who follow Jesus without talking about the incredible power of language. And not just what we say, but what we type, text and demonstrate with our lives.

#2. YOU CAN’T PLEASE PEOPLE.

I wish I could! I’ll let you know when this one changes. The closer you get to a “customer service” job or the more you try to succeed at “pastoral care,” the louder this truth will be. Seriously, don’t set out to make students happy and to be cool. You’ll quit working with teens and be all discouraged and frustrated, feeling like a loser in no time if you do. Pleasing people is a horrible god to live for.

#1. NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING … TRUMPS THE ONE ON ONE.

I think the rarest and most treasured gift in American culture today is the precious gift of “undivided attention.” When I meet one on one with my own kids, a student, volunteer or even a neighbor, it is always impactful. When I turn off my phone and give even 10 minutes to a student after a youth group event … I swear it’s more influential than the two-hour program they just went through. I’m more committed than ever that the coffee shop lunch, the after school meeting and even the parking lot conversations will be the most valuable conversations and ministry moments I’ll have all year. Nothing trumps the one-on-one.

If you need a small reminder from our culture today, listen to the prophetic words of Rhett and Link in this video as they challenge us to be present in a culture that is so distracted by so much all the time.  

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Brian Berry is a proven veteran of student ministry. He serves as the generation ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, California, where he works directly with the high school ministry and oversees a staff that is responsible for infants through teens. Brian is also a frequent blogger, writes and teaches for youth workers, and is the author of both As for Me and My Crazy House and Criticism Bites. He speaks at various conferences, camps, and retreats for a variety of audiences. He is married to Shannon, and they have five kids.