Youth Ministry: What I Would Have Done Differently

YouthThis is from an article by Chris Folmsbee, former youth minister, titled “If I Were to Do It Again.”

•    Act theologically before methodologically
•    Be more of a spiritual director than a program director
•    Hire a parent to be a part of our youth staff
•    Spend more time investing in interns/co-pastors
•    Experiment with more learner-centered education models
•    Ask less of my volunteers and yet equip them more
•    Communicate change to the church leaders, staff and parents more
•    Create more opportunities for students to “learn up” instead of me “teaching down”
•    Celebrate the successes in the lives of students with greater regularity and intensity
•    Worry less about the retreat themes and spend more time with the students on the retreats.
•    Take students on way more spiritual retreats
•    Work hard to be more collaborative with the youth workers in my city
•    Take more time off to be with my wife and kids
•    Be more intentional with a confirmation process
•    Find time to laugh and play more
•    Be more grace-filled with students who were goofing off and causing trouble
•    Try to learn more from the staff instead of thinking I have all the answers
•    Take the criticism of others more seriously and less defensively
•    Meet with my spiritual director more often
•    Take personal retreats more often
•    Be way more missional and a lot less attractional in my approach or model
•    Try and get more pulpit time to advocate for the students in the church and community
•    Pray more and develop a team of people to pray with
•    Provide inspiring training for the parent of the students
•    Call the students to greater levels of holiness
•    Spend a lot more time creating opportunities for students to practice justice
•    Allow the more artistic students opportunities to express themselves and their love for God.
•    Teach much more conversationally
•    Try to enter into the joy, pain, loss, doubt, hurt, etc. of the students and their families

I’ve never been a youth minister. But back before I had kids and before my church had a teen minister, my wife and I and two other couples tried to run a youth ministry. None of us had ever been part of a full time youth ministry as kids. We were clueless. I’m just glad the kids survived our stupidity.

My youngest has just graduated high school, and as the father of four, I’ve been involved in youth ministry at my church for a very long time — 13 or 14 years, I guess — with just my own kids. Much more than that if you include my tenure as a pretend-youth minister couple person. And what I’ve learned is that I still don’t know much about youth ministry.

But it looks like a pretty good list to me. I’d change “confirmation process” to “preparation for baptism,” but otherwise, it’s a better list than I’d know how to make.

What do you all think?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Youth Ministry: What I Would Have Done Differently

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    Well you mean the glorified baby sitter model is not working? I would suggest that we redefine the end results expected of youth ministry. Is it to keep them within their respective religious denomination? Is it to get them dunked before they graduate from highschool? Is it to provide safe, censored entertainment for the adolescents so that their parents will place membership? You see traditional youth ministry was developed from some pre-supposed ideas. Would suggest to you that most typical youth ministry has done more harm than good. I would suggest that youth ministry be redefined by the targeted outcome. First and foremost youth ministry should be an extension of the family ministry because parents, not youth ministers are where kids get the majority of their training and development. The family ministry should be mentoring of young adults to pour themselves spiritually into their children. Example is teaching young dads and moms how to pray out loud with their children about things that really matter not just thanks for the food before dinner. I went and visited my home church this past weekend and it was depressing to here of all the friends who came up through the youth group but now no longer attend anywhere. To me training young parents should replace the traditional youth ministry model. Youth ministers are being paid to do the role of mom and dad.

  2. Joseph Kelly says:

    This one strikes a major cord with me: Create more opportunities for students to “learn up” instead of me “teaching down."

    It did not take me long to realize that I did not belong in Youth Ministry. It has been an uncomfortable past few years as I struggle to survive in ministering in any teaching capacity. I am presently pursuing Ph.D. programs so that I will be qualified to teach in an undergraduate or graduate institution, because I find that the churches I am a part of are resistant to the type of intellectual honesty I believe our century demands of those who are going to confess the Bible to be God's word.

    I am tired of having elders ask me to talk down to the congregation (i.e. adult bible classes). These are not unintelligent people, but they have been conditioned to turn off their brains when they enter Bible classes. I once had a medical doctor ask me to simplify my class because it was "hurting my head." I went on to teach the high school class after that adult class and I said to the kids, "If I had talked to your parents in their class the way I am talking to you now, they would have complained. But I know you guys are smart enough to handle this and I am not going to act like you can't." And they did wonderful in class!

    Bible class should be about "learning up," and that advice should not apply only to youth contexts!

  3. odgie says:

    Unfortunately, a lot of these changes would have gotten Mr. Folmsbee fired.

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