If you are a new youth pastor or if you are an experienced youth pastor starting new somewhere, the first weeks and months can be overwhelming. Or maybe I should say: they will be overwhelming. You will find there’s a lot to learn, a lot to process, a lot to remember. New names, new faces, new senior pastor. Not to mention the long, long list of things you’re expected to do.
So where do you start? What’s the single most important thing you should do in those first few weeks and months?
The single most important thing you should do as a new youth pastor is pray and I don’t mean that as a cliché. You need to stay close to God more than anything and I know from experience that can be a challenge in the whirlwind of starting someplace new. So be sure to make prayer a real priority and embed every single thing you do in prayer.
But except for praying, there are two things you need to do when starting somewhere new as a youth pastor: listen and score some quick wins.
You may know a lot about your new job already because you’ve been given an impressive job description. Or you may find out what needs to be done soon because people will tell you what they think needs work. You’ll probably discover many things you think need to be done differently or need to be skipped altogether.
I mean, it’s fairly easy as a relative outsider to spot the weaknesses in a youth ministry or church, seeing as you come in with fresh eyes and (hopefully) boat loads of energy. But the biggest mistake you can make is start expressing your ideas for change right away. You need to start with listening.
Schedule appointments with every single leader in your youth ministry (unless the church is so big we’re talking about hundreds of people). Spend an hour with each one of them and talk about the youth ministry. Get to know your team, and maybe even more important: get to know what’s really going on.
Ask lots and lots of questions and make sure to formulate them as neutral as possible. There’s a big difference between ‘Why do you do your youth service in Sunday evening?’ and ‘Why on earth would you do a youth service on Sunday evening’? Granted, bit of an extreme example but even the way you word your questions can make people defensive. Try really hard to come across as being interested, not critical, as wanting to learn, not to judge.
Listen intensely for any clues of deeper lying issues like conflicts within the team or with other ministries, disfunctioning leaders or youth giving problems. Don’t come up with solutions, just listen and try to get to the core of the problem.
When you talk with your leaders an volunteers, make sure to ask this question: ‘In your opinion, what is the one thing I need to get on and fix or change right away?’ Which brings us to point number two: score some quick wins.
Score quick wins
A really good and honest way to get people’s support is by scoring some quick wins. Quick wins are problems you can fix that are superficial, but cause a lot of irritation. They’re not major changes or radical changes in policy, they’re often small things that need to be done differently or need to be fixed or repaired to avoid people getting frustrated or angry. If you can identify these in your first weeks and solve them, you will score major points with people.
Let me give you some examples so you know what I’m talking about:
- The youth room hasn’t been cleaned in a year
- The light in the youth fridge has been broken for over six months
- The computer in the youth room is still running on Windows 97
- The date for the youth retreat is only communicated two months in advance
In your first few weeks and months, identify a couple of these quick wins and fix them right away. It will help you build important support for you as a person, it will help you create a positive reputation and it will reflect positively on your youth ministry as a whole. Now you’re off to a good start.
Can you think of any other things new pastors should do in their first few weeks and months?