I love my students and I want them to grow. Every time we meet is an opportunity to help them better connect with God, and experience the life-giving relationship he invites us into. That’s what motivates most youth workers, we want to see the students learn more about God.
An unfortunate side effect of that passion is that we often focus far more on helping the students learn than learning ourselves. The irony is that learning ourselves is perhaps the greatest way to ensure our students continue to learn. If we want them to connect with God, we should connect with God. If we want them to grow, we need to grow. If we want them to experience a life-giving relationship, we need to be participating in that same kind of life-giving relationship. If we are learning and growing, we won’t be able to stop that from spilling over into our interactions with our students. The best way to help your students learn is to be learning yourself. You need to be a better student than your students.
Fortunately, there are many ways to keep growing as a youth leader. Here are just a few:
1) Read up
Do you want to get better at youth ministry while sitting on your butt and drinking your favorite beverage? Great! Pick up a book and start reading. Don’t buy into the lie that you’re “not a reader.” If it’s a subject your passionate about, I bet you won’t be able to gobble up enough books to satisfy your appetite. I find that reading youth-ministry related books has the most subtle yet profound impact on how I do ministry. Even if I don’t have profound “a-ha!” moments, the ideas and principles slowly ooze their way into my process. If you need a place to start, try this list of 10 books every youth pastor should read.
2) Meet up
Find other people in the trenches of youth ministry and get together to talk shop. Buy them a coffee, pay for their lunch, and then ask them what they’ve been learning. I’m blessed to be a part of a few groups of youth workers that meet regularly and each time I walk away encouraged and excited to try something new.
3) Sign up
There are some great experiences out there for youth workers. There’s the National Youth Workers Conference and Simply Youth Ministry Conference. There’s the LeaderTreks Refuel retreat for a different vibe event. And more than likely there’s a regional happening near you. Events like these connect you to people and ideas you’re less likely to run into in the day-to-day life of your ministry. Make a commitment sign up for the next event that strikes your fancy. Beg your pastor or board if you don’t have the funds. Try and get to a training event and literally take on the role of a student by learning from another teacher.
So read up on youth ministry, meet up with other youth workers, and sign up for a training event. You’ll find that the side effect of more knowledge is more passion, and as you fall in love with doing ministry all over again your students will feed off that passion. Go ahead, you have permission to focus more on what you’re learning than what your students are for a bit, and see if you both don’t come out ahead.