This is an open love letter to you and the ministry I’ve left behind. I didn’t leave it behind for any bad reason. I left to answer God’s call to take the next step in my vocation. The time I spent in youth ministry was the best. I hope and pray your experience is as joy and grace-filled as mine. You will learn some important lessons. As the torch is passed, I hope that you take this beautiful, messy, awesome ministry and take it to the next level- supporting and encouraging as many teens and families as possible in the process. So here’s some (unsolicited) advice. Take what’s helpful and ignore the rest (due to tip #1).
Tip #1: Trust Yourself
Intuition is a funny thing. You can’t really name exactly why something is giving you pause, but you feel it. TRUST THAT! Every time, every time, my gut has told me something was “off,” it turned out to be true, even if it was months later. You want to succeed.
Tip #2: Trust the Pastor
Ultimately, he’s the one that has to answer to parishioners, parents, the deanery, the vicariate bishop, and the cardinal. If he asks you to let something go or asks you to give something more attention, even if it seems annoying, do it. He wants you to succeed.
Tip #3: Trust the Teens
Give trust freely until they do something to break that trust. They will push limits and test boundaries, such is the way of adolescents! When they tell you what they “want,” hear them out. Make as many things happen as is possible. If something “fails” there’s lessons for them in that too. They’re learning, you’re learning, don’t say no unless you need to. They want you to succeed!
Tip #4: The parishioners are your biggest cheerleaders
They are passionate enough about youth ministry to outline it in the parish plan. They care about the ministry and you. They will support you any way they can. Prayers are as important fundraising. Engage them, inform them, and enlist them as advocates for the teens and parish in the bigger Church. The teens of the parish are their most precious resource and they take seriously the gifts and talents that the teens add to the parish. They want you to succeed!
Tip #5: Network
Your fellow youth ministry directors/coordinators “get” it. Celebrate with them, commiserate with them. They want you to succeed!
Tip #6: Paperwork
Do it. It’s annoying, and for many youth ministry coordinators it’s the most frustrating part of the job. Take breaks, prioritize relationships, and make sure all your paperwork is in order. Struggling with it? Enlist the parish staff to help. At the very least, they can point you in the right direction.
Tip #7: Stuff Happens
Seriously, you know this. Everyone knows this. What people don’t always remember in the moment is that stuff always happens. Teen accidentally breaks something at a retreat center? Rains on the day scheduled for the car wash? The possibilities are endless. There are very few problems that can’t be solved and worked out fairly easily and painlessly.
Tip #8: Mistakes Happen
Teens are still learning. They do something that perhaps wasn’t the best decision? Give them the opportunity to redeem themselves. Be gentle with them. They’re often harder on themselves than you are. Their parents are often harder on them than you are. It isn’t the first time they’ve screwed up and it won’t be the last.
You will also make mistakes. Be gentle with yourself. Take the lesson with you and leave the negative energy behind you. If you figure out how to do this, let me know!
Tip #9: Keep Them Safe
I was always a ball of anxiety whenever it came to retreats or mission trips. The reason? Someone is trusting me with their most precious thing in the whole world, the thing they would literally die for. I took that role seriously. Teens don’t always realize how what they could be doing could be dangerous. “Emily you worry too much.” When it comes to safety I respond with a firm “no.” I’ve never had someone complain that no one got hurt. Funny thing about that…
The archdiocese used to have an overnight, all night ski event. I was lucky that during my tenure there were no injuries. When we would come back the Pastor would ask, “Emily, how was it?” “It improved my prayer life.” You only do as much as you can to keep them safe, then you let go.
Tip #10: Love Them
When I asked the first Pastor at my first youth ministry position what his goals for me within the ministry were, he gave me two words, “love them.” This stays with me every day. There’s so much in the world that tells everyone that they’re not worthy of love. Teens cannot be loved too much. Love them!
Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is difficult. The teen that is least likeable is the one that needs love the most. Acting out? Show them love. Some love is tough love, but the important word in that is love. When you show teens love, you’re showing them a glimpse of God. I’d quote scripture, but you already know it.
In my experience, the teens you will be working with are easy to love. Affirm them, encourage them, and tell them how loved they are. The world will tell them the opposite, so remind them of their goodness!
Tip #11: Parents, volunteers, and teens are not your friends.
Remember you are there to meet their needs, not the other way around. Foster relationships that meet your needs outside of your ministry. You’re never not the youth ministry coordinator.
At the same time, everyone has ideas. Some are good, some are good for a different time/place. All ideas are good ideas. Not all ideas are practical or able to be implemented. You will be tempted to please everyone. It’s not possible, so don’t let it bother you. If you figure how to do this, let me know! You will be tempted to prove yourself. You have nothing to prove. They chose you.
Tip #12: You can never have enough photos and videos!
I tried to keep this to ten tips and was unsuccessful. I think they’re all important, so here’s the last of your twelve tips. You can never have enough photos and videos! Share as much as possible on social media, the parish website, and in youth ministry newsletters. Parents and parishioners love it!
When these wonderful human beings move on to college and beyond, you’ll have the memories immortalized. Love leaves an imprint. So here’s some imprints from my time in youth ministry:
There’s more on the magic flash drive. I would check out the Fretus promos and outtakes, mostly just because they’re funny.
So in closing, know everyone is here cheering you on! YOU GOT THIS!
You have the honor, privilege, and grace of serving in one of the most beautiful parishes with some of the most beautiful souls. God has chosen YOU!
The Spirit Choir does the BEST version of this song ^^^.
And remember, climb every mountain.
Need more advice? There’s a bunch of books on this. The most helpful? Renewing the Vision. It’s twenty years old and it’s never led me astray!
I know I’m one of a cacophony of people cheering you on, ready to affirm, encourage, and help.
Peace, love, and all good,