Here are lessons that I have learned over the years in youth ministry. They are not in any particular order.
1) Keep Your Word
If you say you will do something; Do it. End of story. It’s better to not make a promise if you foresee a problem. If for some reason you can’t do it then apologize and let the kids know. Trust is very important. Each time you keep your word you show the youth that you are serious and actually care about them.
2)Be on Time
If you schedule an event, be on time. It is very disrespectful to come late all the time. There will always be those youth or families that will come early. By constantly coming late you can spoil their good habit of being on time. Set the example. I even encourage you to be early and prepare before anyone shows up.
3) Listen Without Judging
Don’t over react or flip out when they tell you what is REALLY going on, how they really feel. The fact that they are honest with you shows that they trust and like you. You will be far more effective if you stay calm and let them vent. Many times they can’t vent to parents or even friends.
4) Don’t Yell
As a pathfinder director I never yelled to discipline the kids. It only would have had negative effects. The kids will either ignore you when you yell, or fear you. It’s better to pause, stay still and gather their attention that way. Speak in a stern tone and set up some system of punishment. That’s better than yelling. Keep your blood pressure low.
5) Don’t Publically Embarrass Anyone
Most youth have enough issues with self esteem. Don’t go for cheap shots. It’s fine to joke around but be careful not to hurt any feelings. They will always remember being embarrassed by the leader. The fact that the leader did it makes it 150x worse than another kid doing it. With that said… I encourage joking and keeping a light atmosphere.
6) Challenge Your Youth
If you see that a certain youth or a group of youth have a certain ability; challenge them. Give them a task that is a little beyond their current ability. Encourage them and be their support. Check up with them so that they are not stressed, and keep the encouragement and gently assistance going.
7) Reward Them
Set a goal, and ask them what the reward will be. In my experience they come up with reasonable rewards and it makes it really fun for everyone. You can set the boundaries in rewards such as monetary limit or time limit. But make whatever ministry you are doing fun.
8) Be Loving
Jesus was loving and forgiving. Always remember that if they mess up that they are still growing. Ask them how things are going, and show genuine interest in their lives.
9) Think Long Term
Don’t stress the small stuff too much. The Christian race is not a sprint, but a marathon. Think about the core lessons you want the youth to get out of your activities or interactions. It can be as simple as learning that God listens to their prayers. Or as simple as learning that they can have safe godly fun. Focus on that for months and subtlety hammer it in with all your devotions and conversions. It’s best to aim to make a long term friendships with long term effects.
10) Meet in person
Twitter, facebook, instagram, text, cell phone are all great. However, there is nothing like meeting in person. There are enough things for youth to do online. They will get a lot out of your in-person interactions
11) Pray For Them and Yourself
Pray for the kids often, and pray for yourself even more. Once in a while you should mention that you pray for them. This will remind them that you actually care about them. In the long term they will remember that you cared enough to pray and think about them when you are out of their presence.
12) Occasionally push them to take the right direction
There are times when there is something they flat out don’t want to do. Even though it would greatly benefit them. There are times when you as a leader have to push them in that direction. If you have built a great relationship with them they will be willing to take that step and take up the challenge based on their trust of you.
A pathfinder director friend of mine was always able to get his kids under control. They listened to him and did what he asked them to do. He only had to speak once without yelling. The parents would often come to him and ask him to talk to their child. Believe it or not… the child would listen to him over their parents. I asked him his secret. He told me that he is firm. The keeps his word with punishments and rewards. He doesn’t lecture the kids. He simply explains that there is cause and effect. The kids will respect him for that. He also takes steps to show that he cares about them. He speaks their language and asked about their day to day life.
Some of these tips will apply more than others. Always remember that the purpose of your ministry is to glorify God and to lead people closer to him. That includes yourself, your staff, your youth and everyone you interact with.