Things I Wish I Knew…

I’ve always joked about publishing a book with all of the things I wished I had known when I first entered ministry. Working in ministry is so fulfilling and fruitful, and throughout the years, you learn things about yourself, God, teens, and your parish community. We have definitely learned a few lessons over the years. Since most youth ministers probably don’t have time to write a book (us included), we would like to grace you with a blog full of things we wish someone had told us years ago. What’s the phrase? “Do as we say, not as we do,” or in this case, “not as we have already done.”

Just say no

“No” is a complete sentence. These are true words of advice that our Music Director told me one day. Being at the parish, you might have the “Catholic guilt” that the very foundation of your relational ministry will crumble because you want to say “No” to the third straight night of pulling an all-nighter with your teens. Saying yes to everything enslaves you. Saying “No” allows you to choose. Sure, you might have some unhappy teens, but would you have been able to be present to them anyways? Be strategic with your Yes’s and No’s. Do not let fear drive you to “No” (insert JPII Do not Be Afraid). Surrender all things to Christ. If you are having a hard time, pray the Surrender Prayer and watch the Holy Spirit Work.

You’re not the co-star

The moments I feel burnt out, exhausted, and question God’s calling for me are the same moments that I catch myself leading teens to me and not to God. The moment we lead them to ourselves and not directly towards God is when it becomes about us and not His Kingdom. I’ve attempted to live into this quote from Edith Stein. “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.” God doesn’t need co-stars; He needs co-laborers in the vineyard. Just because you’re holding a microphone doesn’t mean the spotlight should not constantly shine towards Heaven. Let the Spirit work through you. Make it about Him, and He will provide.

Pizza is not a food group

High School health class was not my favorite class, and I probably talked or slept through most of it. But I did learn enough to know that pizza is not a food group on the pyramid. Despite knowing that, I ate more pizza in my first few years of ministry than I had hoped. Papa Johns himself should have sent me a stipend. I’m still waiting for that check. I thought that I was being amazing and constantly putting the teens first. I would rearrange my own life to accommodate them. I would eat pizza more than once a week because that’s what they were eating. It took me years to realize that putting them first was actually a disservice to them. I wasn’t taking care of myself and, in turn, was not able to minister to them well. I stopped eating pizza and brought my own food, I stopped canceling my gym class and made it a priority, and I prioritized my own friendships and family. I would have considered this selfish years ago, but now I realize that my own life, my own healthiness is a testimony to the teens. You cannot pour into others if you do not fill yourself first.

Parents are your friends, not your enemy

Parents get a bad rap in ministry. If parents just (insert YM complaint), kids would attend (insert your event/ministry). If parents are causing you grief, thank God they are even there! That is a foot in the door for you. Something is keeping them in your office (probably paperwork they haven’t fill out…more on that later), and your goal is to find common ground. Not every parent has a degree in ministry, knows odds, evens, or multiples of 3 of the 10 Commandments, or has ever attended a Youth Ministry like yours. Do not reprimand them for not fulfilling their duties of being the “primary catechists”…because we all know shame is the best way to build someone up, right? Wrong. Parents are teens, just grown up. Are you taking the time to be as relational with the parents as you are with the teens?

Keep it simple

Speaking of parents…Paperwork sucks; it is necessary, but doesn’t necessarily need to suck. They know it, and you know it too. Find ways to make your parent’s lives easier, not any more complicated, invest in digital paperwork/registration forms. Also, learn to write emails. Do not write anything more than necessary. Limit yourself to 2 paragraphs MAX. Not every email is urgent, do not mark it as such. Remember that parents and teens are getting 100’s of emails a day from work, school, Target, the soccer coach, and some Prince in another country. Limit yourself to the bare minimum, but do not be afraid to include a good meme. Everyone loves a good meme.

Pray, pray, and then pray some more

More important than all of these is prayer. Your prayer life is not important for your relationship with God, it is your relationship with God. If you do not have a relationship with Him, what are you leading teens to? Just as you pencil in meetings, take time to send weekly emails, set aside time for Christ. How many steps would it take you to get from your office to the Chapel in your parish? I’m embarrassed to admit that it would take me less than thirty steps. But yet, as physically close as Christ was and as accessible as He was, it took me to fall numerous times and Him picking me right back up to realize how badly I needed Him. Make it a priority to attend daily Mass, spend time with Christ in the Chapel, pray the rosary, or the Litany of Trust. Just a few moments a day can transform your life. It is not selfish to take time for yourself and God. It is vital for you and your ministry.

It’s not much, but it is honest work being a Youth Minister. Overall the thing to remember is this; Love your teens, love your parents, love yourself, and for the love of everyone and everything, remember it is about Jesus, not you.

About the Author

Kelly Simpson and Andrew Brueggen

Kelly is the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Ann's in Marietta, Georgia. After college, she joined the St. Ann Life Teen Core team, where she fell in love with Christ and Youth Ministry. She's now been working at St. Ann’s for over nine years and is passionate about leading teens closer to Christ. Her love language is sarcasm and in her free time, you can find her cheering on the Crimson Tide and drinking coffee. Andrew is your typical Wisconsin Youth Minister. He loves Cheese Curds, Culvers, and grew up on a farm, but he doesn’t like the Packers (Go Broncos). Andrew loves playing Smash Bros and FIFA, weightlifting, his kids, and weightlifting his kids. He is located in La Crosse, Wisconsin aptly named "God’s Country."

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