Being a youth minister comes with plenty of challenges. Here’s a few phrases to avoid to not make their job more difficult.
1. Your job is just relay races and messy water balloon fights
Yes, youth ministry involves a lot of fun activities but it’s not the core of what we do. Moreover, these games serve a purpose. Sometimes they illustrate a point, serve as a lighthearted way to introduce a heavier topic, or help alleviate the awkward and get teens comfortable with us and each other. Yes, sometimes they’re silly, but they’re important.
2. Teens are obnoxious!
This really isn’t helpful. We know exactly what teens are like. We know they have a lot of questions, confusion, and frustration. They’re not sure how this whole “faith thing” fits into their lives or why they should listen to the Church (or anyone) about anything. Teens also have a lot of potential. Helping them answer questions and dive into a relationship with Christ now can change the course of their future.
3. I wish I had the whole summer off
No. No, we don’t. Youth programs often involve conferences, small groups, or camps during the Summer. These months are also when we plan for next year, recruit and train volunteers, and maybe take some time off.
4. I’m not outgoing enough to do what you do
Despite popular opinion, not all youth ministers are quirky extroverts. And that’s okay. That’s not always what teens need. Being comfortable talking about a variety of difficult topics is a requirement but being the bubbly person who loves getting up in front of large crowds and doing embarrassing things.
5. Is this your full-time job? What else do you do all day?
Youth ministers have a variety of responsibilities. Some teach Confirmation classes. Some run both middle school and high school groups. Some work with coworkers (or alone) on other faith formation programs. Even if your youth minister is only responsible for youth group, running a successful program involves a lot of planning and preparation. Many youth ministers I know who are full time, can often work over forty hours in a week, especially leading up to a big event or retreat.
6. Your job is always fun!
While this is similar to the first point, this seemingly-positive comment is almost worse. It ignores the real work of youth ministry. Teens are not known for their commitment. Designing youth group nights, fun events, and meaningful retreats that not only engage them but also show them the beauty of the faith is a challenge. Youth ministers help teens deal with problems like their parents getting a divorce, their best friend suddenly not talking to them, mental illness, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. It can be meaningful but not exactly “fun.”
7. How long do you think you’ll last?
It’s no secret that the turnover rate on youth ministers is pretty high. It’s also no secret that youth ministers don’t rake in the big bucks. The two may be related. But regardless of whether your youth minister is getting married, having a kid or some other typically expensive life event do not ask this question. Assuming the youth minister will leave can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as they may not feel supported.
8. It must be so rewarding!
Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, lots of effort, intentionality, planning, and relationship-building don’t reap the results we expected. Say this at your own risk. If your youth minister is struggling to reach a particular teen or answer a difficult question this will only hurt. The reality is that even the teens we do reach will outgrow our programs and move on.
9. Can you talk about [insert difficult/sensitive topic here]?
Yes, I will completely throw my plans out the window because you think our teens need to hear more about eschatology, or theology of the body, or whatever else. To be frank, while most youth ministers aren’t afraid to talk about just about any subject, parents still can too. Yes I know we’re supposed to be the hip, relatable ones and that does give us an advantage. But, as parents you also have an advantage, one us youth ministers can’t come close to. So use it.
10. I’d love to help out but I’m not qualified
Yes, youth ministry can be challenging. But volunteers are what make these events and programs possible. As a small group leader, catechist, or helper you always have the youth minister to rely on for support and guidance. You are needed. And not just to help keep us sane. Teens need to see we aren’t the only adults who care about them and their relationship with Christ. To be honest, no is entirely “qualified”. But God does not call those who are equipped, He equips those He calls.