I've been gearing up for another year of Youth Ministry lately (kickoff is September 22nd!), and preparing for leader retreats, which got me thinking about how Youth Ministry works and how it works well. You can read more about my ministry by clicking here. For now, here are the top things I would tell anyone involved in youth ministry, at any level:
Invest in the students. Kids can tell when you're not really that into it...and they can tell when you are. Learn every kid's name. It's a daunting task, but so worth it. Learn what they like, ask about their lives, weekends, interests, everything! Get to know your students and invest in them on a deep level. Make sure they know how happy you are to see them and spend time with them.
2.) Silence is okay.
Sometimes it takes students a while to warm up, or sometimes they are just thinking. Think about the questions you ask during small group discussion...some of them are probably pretty complex! Don't jump in and fill the silence. Sometimes it feels awkward, but you are there to facilitate their learning, not to do it for them. -->
3.) Create a safe space.
Everyone should feel welcome and loved at youth group. This means a zero tolerance policy for exclusion, name-calling, etc. I tell my kids there are two rules at youth group: be nice and try hard. Pretty much everything can fall into one of those two categories. Cultivate a culture of acceptance and encouragement at your youth group. Lead by example.
4.) No cell phones.
Depending on the population you work with, this may seem fairly rough to totally impossible. It's not, I promise. At the beginning of the night, students are asked to turn in their cell phones (for the 90 minutes I have them) and if they do they are given a piece of candy. If they do not turn it in, that's their choice....however, if I see their phone later in the night, I take it and they get no candy. You would be surprised at how quickly the students figure out that they won't be able to use their phones, so they might as well turn them in at the beginning and get candy. Not having the distraction of cell phones creates an incredible amount of focus. (PS: This means you can't be on your phone, either!)
5.) Review the lessons in advance.
There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a lesson and realizing you have no idea what you're saying. Make sure you read through each lesson thoroughly so that if you have questions, you can look up the answers or ask your youth minister, priest, etc. Know the material!
6.) Pray with and for your students.
A great way to learn names is to pray for your students in your daily prayers! It also creates a deeper bond between you and your kids. Pray with your students as well. Set an example, students should not be afraid to pray. Feel weird about it? Look up some prayers beforehand!
7.) Don't react.
When students are seeking negative attention, don't react. Bring the focus back to the topic at hand. Don't indulge. On the same note, when a student confides something to you, and you find it shocking, don't react. It will only make them feel self-conscious.
8.) Be an example.
Basically, practice what you preach. Students can tell when you aren't being authentic and sincere, so whatever you're teaching them should be something you honestly strive to achieve in your daily life as well.
9.) Meet them where they are.
You'll get students at various stages in their faith journeys. Meet them where they are. Answer their questions. Let them go at their own pace. Don't start with hard doctrines of the church with a kid who is still discerning whether or not God exists!
10.) Lead them where they are meant to be.
It is your job help your students move ahead in their faith, to learn more, to gain knowledge, to go deeper. After you meet them where they are, start showing them where they need to go.
That's it! Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let me know!