Basic Professionalism for Youth Ministers

    Youth workers are known for a lot of great things: You are one of the few people in your church that can walk credibly in the world of kids. You understand youth culture. You have spiritual passion and a willingness to earn the right to be heard. You know the words to the latest songs, trends and can maybe even beat-box a bit. We have a well-earned reputation, though, for having a difficult time walking the distance between the campus and the office. As a youth worker you are a foreign missionary to the local campus. However, unlike a missionary who only comes home on an occasional furlough, we have to walk in two worlds multiple times each day. Learning to walk this tightrope can be a challenge. Although “suiting up” is not realistic for youth workers, neither is starting your sentences with “Dude” when speaking with the pastoral staff and parents.

Here are some tips to increase your credibility with adults:

1. Dress for your audience

The way people dress opens or closes doors for them. Dress for whomever you will be seeing that day. If you are meeting with other youth workers, causal attire is fine. When you have church staff meetings dress the part: Be professional. Guys wear slacks, collar, belt and loafers on staff meeting day. Ladies go office casual.  If you are meeting with parents or going on campus wear a collared shirt.  Remember, even with students you are still an adult Christian leader. It goes without saying to have your hair combed and avoid appearances that will shock adults. This is a chance to, in the words of Paul, “be all things to all people.”

2. Punctuality wins points

Time management will establish or destroy your credibility. Whether you are meeting with students, volunteers, parents, or supervisors, their time is valuable. You do not communicate that you are “busy for God” when you are late, but that you are unable to manage your life. Tardiness will be seen as a display of your character. Show up on time, be ten minutes early, and work on an email if no one is there yet. Instead of having back to back to back meetings, put an hour buffer in-between so that you can go over if need be and won’t be late to the next meeting. For parents’ sake, end youth group when you say you will. Finally, honor God with your time. Six days of work and a Sabbath is the expectation, not the suggestion. Give God His portion of your time.

3. Be accountable with your time:

The best and worst thing about the youth ministry schedule is the flexibility. You alone on the staff have the ability to come and go as you please. Make sure that you are doing the right things and that people know that.

a)    Fill out your weekly time report every week. Especially fill in the “Kingdom building” section. It makes sure that you are recruiting leaders, building teams and engaging in relationships with students.

b)    Link your calendar to all relevant parties. Make sure that people know where you are and why you are there. Make sure that your pastor, your supervisor, your mentoring youth director and your trainer can see your schedule. You are trying to work hard, without killing yourself. You are also trying to work smart and do the things that you need to do, not just the things you want to do.

c)    Post your office hours. Then stick to them…but resist the urge to spend too much time in the office! You are a missionary. Spend your time recruiting, training and reaching.

d)    Program up rather than down in the summer. Episcopal Church kids are really busy. Use this time to build relationships and momentum for fall.

4. Respect your leadership

We serve the Church. Youth ministry is our calling. It is frustrating when your rector or supervisor has rules that seem to hinder the work of reaching youth with the Gospel, but reacting with a lack of respect for that person never helps the situation. Do not talk behind your bosses’ back. Stop the gossip! Remove yourself if others are complaining for the sake of complaining. If something is bugging you, speak to them. Model speaking TO rather than ABOUT people. Work to understand your supervisor’s context and why they made the rule. It could be that they are not aware their rule is hindering your ministry and, if it is less important, they are probably going to be willing to allow you to redefine it. On the other hand, a senior pastor is tasked with maintaining the whole church. Know that senior leaders are often acting on information that you do not possess and that they are not free to share. Ask for your needs to be met. If they are not, trust your leadership to be working for the good of the church and your ministry and let it go.

5. Learn to delegate

We were hired to do youth ministry. That includes many duties: interacting with parents, developing leaders, and putting together a great ministry. A pastor once said during the hiring process of a youth worker, “I don’t want you to do the work of ten people. I want you to find ten people to do all that work.” Develop a community of people to surround you to reach every last student, but do not do it alone. Ensure that these people are properly trained, utilizing their gifts, and honoring their successes as well as being their during failures.

6. Use staff meetings and office time wisely:

     One place where you really need to be seen as a professional is in the church office.

    a) Office Time:

  -Dress professionally in the office.

  -Find out when your pastor wants you to be in the office and be there. They understand that           your value to the organization is as a missionary to the community and want you “outside”.           However, a church staff is a team, and having regular, scheduled interactions with the team        is an important part of being a team player- and we all play for the same team!

-Use your office time wisely: work on messages, organize to delegate, relate with the staff     but don’t waste time- even if others do. This is a ministry. Eternity is at stake. Don’t waste your time. It is far too valuable.

  -Use adult vocabulary in the office. Things are “awesome” on the campus and the youth       room. They are “fantastic” in the office.

b) Staff Meetings:

   -Never be the last one to the meeting, rushing in as the meeting starts. Show up five             minutes early and work on email if you are the first.

   -Don’t play with your phone or text people during meetings!

   -Pay Attention to everyone else’s business. You are part of the team.

   -Enter conversations as an equal…but calmly. And know when you have said enough.

7. Plan for the long haul:

       Youth workers do ministry in the “now,” after all, that is where kids live. Your students are not thinking of what is going on two months from now - Homecoming is next week! Remember that the adults and parents in our ministry are busy and are juggling commitments to be involved with us. Plan at least three months in advance. Have your summer activities planned and advertised (with costs) by December 1.

You will be surprised how much these simple seven items will improve other’s perception of you and raise the respect shown to you by the pastoral staff, your volunteers and parents.

©Matt Marino, 2012 Please do use with permission. mattmarino@mac.com