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The “Informal” Education of Youth Pastors

As of late, I have been asked: “if I want to become a youth pastor, where/how should I get my youth ministry education?”

My answer:  Excellent question.  There are formal and informal routes.  The formal routes are Bible college, youth ministry certificate programs and/or seminary, which are great routes—but in this post I am not going to deal with these formal routes.  Rather, I am going to speak more to the “hands on” education.  My goal is to unlock the youth ministry education available outside of classes, all around you.

Be a Self Learner 

Disciplining yourself to be a self learner will catapult your personal and professional growth.  You need to love learning.  How to be a great self learner:

–  pick your learning medium. how do you learn the best?  Books?  Blogs?  Magazines? Videos? Audio?  Seminars?

–  select the areas you want to learn about.  for me i love learning about adolescent research, ministry strategy and systems, sociology, youth culture, philosophy, theology, navy seals, business leadership, online technology and communication/presentation

–  carve time in your week to learn ( minimum 3 hours a week)

–  take notes on what you are learning (i will talk more about this in the last section)

Bottom line:  keep learning so you can keep current.  You have to keep up to date because things are always changing.  Some of my IT friends go to bookstores weekly in order to keep up with some of the latest coding trends and techniques.  In the IT industry you have to be a self learner in order to stay ahead of the game.  In my early 20s, I hated learning.  But I realized that in youth ministry you have to excel in multiple skills and areas. So if there was a subject or a skill I didn’t know how to do, I would have to teach myself.  Being a self learner is a foundational piece when you value practical knowledge.

Learn the Basics of Networking

Networking gives you friendship, community, resources and mentorships.  Network with youth pastors locally, regionally, nationally and online.  Don’t be afraid to network with people across the pond.  I love networking because it fosters new relationships, which brings new learnings.  When networking make sure to befriend your new youth ministry friends on facebook and twitter, follow their blogs, get their cell number, go to the same conferences together and skype monthly.  Thankfully over the past decade networking has gotten easier due to social media.

Developing youth ministry relationships is so vital– I cannot stress this enough!  Your youth ministry friends will keep you sane, make you a better youth pastor and person and open the door for new ministry opportunities.  And who knows….. maybe one day you and your youth ministry friends can partner and do ministry together???

Get Mentors (Who Are Ahead-Beside-Behind You)

Surround yourself with wise people.  If you are networking in the right places, you should have no problem finding youth ministry mentors.  In my opinion, you need array of mentors in your life.  You need older and younger mentors.  Older mentors help you navigate unfamiliar ministry seasons and situations.  Younger mentors help you keep current and humble.  And mentors who are beside you (same ministry stage and age) completely relate to where you are at–personally and professionally.  My favorite mentors are the younger ones because they keep me fresh and on track.

Develop Case Studies of Your Youth Ministry Work
If you want to document your youth ministry work– Start a blog.  Why?  Two reasons.
1)  A blog is a great place to record your youth ministry learnings

2)  Your online youth ministry friends and mentors (the people who you are networking with) will be able to provide more insight and constructive feedback

For 3 hours a week write one blog post about your youth ministry experience, lessons learned,  triumphs, failures and break-throughs.  This is exactly what I did back in 2007.  I started a blog and started reflecting about my youth ministry experiences.  I had many people help me wrestle through some tough youth ministry topics.  The point is to reflect, write and iterate again and again about your youth ministry experience.  In fact, at Harvard Business School reading, reviewing and writing business case studies is a good chunk of the MBA education.

Blogging about your current youth ministry experience requires research, reflection, reading and critical thinking which provides for an amazing education.  Bottom line:  showcasing your learnings on your blog will detail your journey as you learn the ins and outs of youth ministry.


What are other informal ways to get educated as a youth pastor?  What are some obvious-everyday (and free) educational tools for broke and busy youth pastors?

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Jeremy Zach easily gets dissatisfied with status quo. He reeks with passion and boredom is not in his vocabulary. He becomes wide awake when connecting with student pastors, thinking and writing about student ministry, experimenting with online technology, and working out. He is married to Mikaela and has two calico cats, Stella and Laguna. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and is a XP3 Orange Specialist for Orange—a division of the REthink Group. Zach holds a Communication degree from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities and Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.