Charlie Brown got it right! Life can be really frustrating sometimes. And so can youth ministry. It's so easy in a blog like this to focus all our attention on the bright spots of working with teens, the fun ideas, the creative lessons, the life-changing mission trips. But let's get real. Those of us who do this as a calling are gluttons for punishment. No kid in their right mind every said "I want to be a youth minister when I'm growed up!" And yet, that's exactly what I've been doing for the past 17 years: being a youth minister and (some might argue) waiting to grow up! So, given all that, here's my top list of youth ministry frustrations, in no particular order:
1) Having to constantly balance keeping youth entertained while slipping in Bible study and worship when they aren't paying attention.
2) Parents who see youth group as a privilege to be granted only if homework is already done on Sunday night.
3) Youth who wait until Sunday night to do their homework and use that as an excuse not to go to youth group!
4) Churches that want youth in worship...as long as they sit on the back row and keep quiet!
5) Schools/coaches/piano teachers/dance teachers etc. who schedule practices and events on Sunday morning and Sunday evenings.
6) Families that take youth out of church on Sundays in order to participate in school or sporting events.
7) Youth who let you know at the last minute that they can't participate in the long-planned retreat/mission trip/youth Sunday/(fill in the blank).
8) People who always ask you "How many youth do you have coming to youth group?" as if this was the most important indicator of a quality youth ministry.
9) When you order pizza on Sunday night for 20 hungry kids and the delivery driver shows up an hour late....right in the middle of the Bible study!
10) The oft-asked question "When are you going to get a real ministry job?"
11) Teens who feel completely free to share, in the midst of your well-planned program, "I'm bored" or "When are we going to do something fun?"
12) Teens who show up at youth group and ask "What are we doing tonight?" despite the fact that you sent them an amazing flyer, posted the activity on their Facebook and MySpace pages, and texted them on Sunday afternoon with all the info!
13) Finding out that the church has planned a congregational event during youth group time and no one bothered to tell you.
14) A culture that encourages youth to split their time and energy between 20 different activities at once so that, at best, church receives about 5% of their focus, along with sports, band, school, music lessons, jobs, etc.
15) When you plan an activity for the 5 teens that attended last week...and 25 teens show up. Or, when you plan an activity for the 25 who came last week, and you walk into a room with only 5 quiet faces staring up at you.
Oh, I could go on and on, but I know you may have some good ones to add to the list as well (and please do!). It's fun to list the frustrations, partly as a catharsis. In reality, the positive experiences working with youth eventually outweigh the frustrations, if you stick with it long enough! No one ever said ministry was easy, or lucrative, or glamorous. But it can be life-changing -- for you and your youth!