The reason for the dismissal (a nice way to say firing) was legitimate and long overdue. Our phone conversation did not focus on the youth pastor but rather the "position" of a youth pastor and how can a church layout some basic expectations and then have an accountability process. We shared together how many people wonder what youth pastors do all day, why they need to be full time and can we really trust them with our children? These are all common and all to often unanswered concerns and questions in the church today.
This past year I attended a youth conference where the following questions were asked, "how many of you have been in trouble in the last year?" "How many of you have been in trouble in the last month?" Then the M.C. asked, "how many of you are always in trouble and you will be called into the Pastor's office when you get back from this conference?" I was surprised at the response. People were cheering and standing up "fist pumping" letting others know around them that they were in this category. Many people were smiling, however they were not smiles of joy but rather uncomfortable ones representing those of us who didn't know how to respond any other way.
Later I shared with the group that came with me how embarrassed and troubled I was at the response. I shared with them that I would never cheer or get excited over the fact that I was a "rule breaker" or some "rebel" in my church. I want leadership and parents to trust me. I want a boss/pastor to be on "my side" and be supportive because I think before I act. I don't want to be friends with teenage students, I want to be an example of what a Christ follower is. I want to show respect for time, buildings and people.
How do you represent the "image" of a youth pastor? Are others blessed or frustrated by your ministry? Without respect and trust you can only lead others so far. Read the following and begin to ask yourself how you can grow as a leader and pastor to students, the greatest ministry position in the church!
- Have works hours. Let the security and your boss know your weekly schedule and keep it consistent. This allows the staff and families in your church to know when it is best to contact you and when you are available. I used to give a detailed schedule of my hours and I was surprised at how many people respected my study and family times. Schedules are not the enemy!
- Be the first one in the office. Do this at least once a week. You will be amazed at how much more you will accomplish in the early hours (between 6:00-8:00AM) when nobody else is around. Coming in anytime after 8:30AM is too late. You are not in college anymore, get up and get ready for the day. If you are coming in later due to ministry or personal responsibilities, let the office know.
- Be organized. This doesn't mean clean and neat, it means you know how to effectively plan, communicate, schedule and implement events and the day-to-day ministry you lead. There are many resources available to help you in this area, ask others what they use. The Franklin planner and Palm are still my favorite.
- Dress like you care. I see youth pastors who work in great churches who couldn't get hired anywhere else because of the way they dress. There are days you can dress casually, but if you are meeting with parents, leadership, or people in the community you should plan what you wear to match your audience. Most days I was in jeans and Polo's but I also wore shorts, t-shirts and even suits (when required). At least give the appearance that you care and respect your audience. You might not like to dress outside your comfort zone, but we are always telling students "it's not about our rights it's about how we represent Christ." Don't stop the Message from reaching someone because "this is who I am and I don't want to change" (I have heard this more than I would like to remember).
- Return calls and emails. Schedule at least an hour everyday to return calls and emails. Use your discernment in this area. There will be people who will contact you many times a week just looking for conversation or conflict, respond to these with a note and it may save you an hour on the phone. You will also want to prioritize your contacts, calling back a parent with a question about an upcoming trip is more important then calling a local vendor back who "has a deal" for your ministry.
- Return on time. Big one! I have an unwritten policy that many of my leaders have learned over the years; upon returning from an event or trip, I would rather wait for parents than have the parents wait for us. There are times this is unavoidable and parents understand this. What parents don't and shouldn't have to understand is the youth ministry returning late after every event that takes them off campus.
- Meet with leaders one-on-one. Find the leaders that others will follow and spend extra time with them. Invest in them, encourage and support them so they begin to see themselves as leaders, not just volunteers. This is a big step in advancing the ministry and allowing others to begin supporting and multiplying the ministry in a more productive way.
This is a very short list to get the ball rolling for your professional ministry life. I am not sure who originally said it, but I try to daily incorporate the saying "if you fail to plan you are planning to fail." Plan your hours, days, calls, events, study time and ministry so that you can be the best steward of what God has blessed you with. I am praying for you as plan your days ahead!
By the way, my pastor friend and his new youth pastor are doing great.