So you managed to get a new youth ministry position, congrats! That is no small victory in this economic climate. I can imagine you’re all fired up, filled to the brim with thousands of ideas on how to make this new youth ministry you just got hired for better and bigger. But can I just make one small suggestion? It’s just one thing really that will help you avoid making the biggest mistake you can make in a new youth ministry.

Don’t start with change, start with listening.

I know the youth ministry you inherited is somewhat old fashioned and not family friendly at all. And of course starting a student leadership program would be a great idea, as is having the students lead worship. I’ve seen your vision for this youth ministry and it ain’t bad, but please believe me when I urge you to wait.

Don’t start with change, start with listening.

The biggest mistake you can make in a new youth ministry is to start with change instead of listening. 

Your predecessor had the same energy when he started and his plan didn’t look all that different from yours. Yet he was fired after just two years. Haven’t you wondered why? Could it be because just like you, he wanted to realize all his plans in two years, dreaming of the best youth ministry ever? His dreams were wonderful, his motives pure, yet he failed miserably.

It’s because he started with change, not with listening.

Your team seems like a great group, there is certainly a lot of potential there when it comes to leadership. But what you don’t know is that Rick and Laurie have huge marriage troubles, that Jeff wanted to become the new youth pastor and resents you for getting the position, that the only reason Bob and Sylvia are still serving is because she’s the pastor’s daughter and that Cindy has decided you are way too young for the job. What do you think will happen if you tell them your big plans? My guess is you won’t even last the two years your predecessor did.

You have to start with listening, not with change.

Take your first year to get to know your team, the leadership, the people in your church and last but not least your students. Ask questions, build relationships, gain trust. And listen.

Listen for clues to what’s happening beneath the surface.

Listen to discern what people really want and need.

Listen for the Spirit to reveal the spiritual atmosphere.

Listen for wounds, for pain, for hurt.

Listen and see where God is at work already.

Listen for dreams, for vision, for hope.

Then, but only then, start a conversation about change. A conversation mind you, not a ten-point plan on becoming the best youth ministry ever. A conversation with real people on real students in a real youth ministry where a real God is at work.

If you want your new youth ministry to ‘succeed’, start with listening, not with change.