There’s absolutely no denying that 2020 has been a strange year for all of us. This year has flipped all of our lives around in the most unexpected, surprising, and unanticipated way. For me personally, 2020 will be the year that I went from working as a full-time Youth and Children’s Director to teaching first grade in an instant.

Without getting into much detail, let me just say that this all happened through a crazy turn of events. While I still work for my church, teaching has taken over much of my schedule. Gone are the days of setting up for weekly services and driving the church van twice a week. You can now find me teaching core subjects to a room full of six and seven-year-old children.

My hope is to one day return to the area of full-time ministry. However, God has given me the grace to be where I am and I’m not going to waste the moment. The lessons I have learned from teaching are things, I believe, that can easily be transferred over to the world of ministry.

Here are a few ministry lessons I’ve learned from being a first-grade teacher:

  1. Young people carry a lot. While this is true literally, as today’s student carries quite a bit in their backpacks, it is also true figuratively. Children and teenagers are walking around with so much trauma, emotional baggage, family issues, and problems you and I cannot even begin to fathom. And most of what they carry begins at a young age. As a youth worker, I knew this to be true. But, it was something that I only thought about on Sundays and Wednesdays. The issues they faced were not in front of me every day. As a teacher? I see the struggles they face on a daily basis for hours at a time. I see how it affects their mood, their learning, and their well-being. 

As youth workers, it’s important to keep this in mind when it comes to the students in our ministry. Know that what you see a few times a week at church is only a small fraction of the lives that your students live. This should remind us to be gracious and intentional in our interactions with them, and to pray for them on those days we don’t see them.

  1. Creativity, creativity, creativity! I think we can all agree that ministry requires a lot of creativity. In teaching? Multiply the need for creativity by about 1,000. Most teachers are tasked with creating lessons for 25 students in multiple subjects, while also meeting the needs of various learning styles, on top of making sure each student learns what they are supposed to. This has stretched my creativity like it has never been stretched before.

In youth ministry, I feel that we get stuck in a rut when it comes to making sure our lessons stick. We use the same object lessons and illustrations. The same games and events. It’s easy to forget that in your youth group, similar to a classroom, that there are many different types of learners—auditory, kinesthetic, visual, and many more. As you prepare your messages and events, keep this in mind. Allow this to push you to look for ways to get more creative in the way that you minister.

  1. God fights for His children. It’s easy to think that, as Youth Pastors, we are the only Spiritual leaders in our students’ lives. But, this is not true. God has placed many people in the lives of His children to minister to them in many ways—including teachers. In only my short time as a teacher, I cannot tell you how many times the Holy Spirit has given me discernment in what a student is dealing with. He has put it on my heart to pray for them, to intercede for them, and to be a light unto them each day.

Every day I see the Lord fighting for his children. I see the work that He does in them in a setting that looks like nothing like a church. Many teachers are apart of this work and it took me becoming one to see that.

As a youth worker, find a way to partner with a teacher to see how characteristics from their profession can help you in yours.

I wish that I could share the several other lessons I believe carry over into youth ministry, but the list would be miles long. The final thing that I’d like to add is one thing we all know but seem to forget: ministry is not limited to a church building. The Lord works in all settings, no matter where you are. I cannot wait for that day that I am back in a vocational ministry position and put into practice everything I’ve learned while teaching first grade. Until then, I will continue to minister to the beloved children the Lord has placed in my classroom.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Karli Loving is a First Grade Teacher from Lawton, Oklahoma. She is passionate about seeing the Lord move mightily in the next generation, as well as encouraging diversity in the area of youth ministry. Karli is a fan of Jesus, loving others, and chocolate milkshakes.