Are you just starting out in youth ministry? I know how overwhelming that can be. There’s so much to learn, so much to do…I’d like to share three things with you I learned in my first years as a youth leader, in the hope that you can benefit from it.

1. It’s mainly about making time

I started out as a small group leader and at first, I was quite worried about whether I would be able to give my students the support they needed. What if they had serious problems, how would I know what to do? What if they started asking theological questions, would I be able to answer them right? How could I get them to like me, to trust me? I agonized over things like this a lot.

But I found out it’s really not that hard to ‘be there’ for students. It’s simply a matter of making time for them. We’ve had our students over for dinner almost every Sunday for an entire year. We went to their birthday parties, graduations, weddings, engagements and what not. We took them shopping, chauffeured them around, visited them at their place of work and invited them to every event we could think of, because we would be there. And it worked.

I’m not saying it should be this time consuming, it was a conscious decision on our part because we were also new in the church and wanted to get to know people. What I’ve learned is that being there for my students is mostly about spending time with them, getting to know them and allowing them to get to know me. What impacted them in the end weren’t the theological conversations, though we had a few of those as well. What made the difference was the relationship we’d built. And that was simply a matter of making time.

2. It’s as much about the parents as it is about the students

This is something I came to realize more and more. As youth leaders, we may fall into the pitfall of thinking that we’re the most important influence in these kids’ lives, but we’re not. They will see us for all of what, maybe four hours a week? And how much time will they spend with their parents?

Let’s face it: equipping parents to share their faith with their kids, to live out what they believe, to help their kids become rooted in Christ, that may be as much our job as doing it ourselves to our students. Sure, we need to be a role model, but we need to help parents become one as well, for their role will have a bigger influence than we could ever have.

3. You’re a role model

When I started out in youth ministry, my desire was to become a role model for these kids. What I didn’t realize was that I already was. If you are a youth leader, students will look at you to see what you say, what you do, how you act. It may sound ominous, but these kids are watching you. It’s not a matter of being a role model or not, it’s a matter of being a good one, a great one even.

Be aware of this and act accordingly. That doesn’t mean you should try and be ‘better’ than you are in reality. Being fake is the quickest way to lose any and all respect from students. It does mean however that you should constantly think about what you’re doing. And believe me, I know how intimidating that sounds. But I’ve found out it’s more a question about openly living out my faith than anything else. I don’t need to be better than I am, I’m open about my struggles and trials, and God is using me anyhow…

If you are new in youth ministry, what are you struggling with? On what issues of topics would you like advice? If you’ve survived those few years, what lessons do you take away that other could benefit from? Share your thoughts in the comments!