Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    13 Things You Should Never Do in Youth Ministry


    Tired of all these youth ministry blogs (this one included) telling you all the things you should be doing? Me too!

    Who died and made us experts that we get to tell everybody else the best ways to recruit volunteers, evangelize youth, plan events, manage time, and on and on and on? So, in the spirit of knocking us all down a peg or two, let me share with you my list of things you should never do in youth ministry. Of course, I have personally done every single one of these!


    1) Never use college drinking games for icebreakers even though you use soda instead of alcohol (and no excuses just because you didn't know the game was based on a college drinking game!)

    2) Never call off a lock-in (or similar event) because only a few teens sign up/show up unless you want to send a message that those few don't really matter.

    3) Never suggest to the youth that the adult part of the church just isn't as cool as the youth ministry part (unless you want teens to run screaming from the Church when they turn 18).

    4) Never ask a parent to be a youth ministry leader or chaperone without getting permission from their teen FIRST! (or else you may get the parent to show up at the event...but not their teen.)

    5) Never allow teens unfettered access to the church building for a video/photography project unless you find out the subject matter first (which is preferable to finding it out after the images hit Facebook or YouTube and the senior pastor is giving you a call.)

    6) Never say "I promise" to youth unless you really mean "I promise."

    7) Never drive anywhere alone with one of your youth (unless you are trying to escape from the T Rex that has just flattened the church building and even then the teenager should ride in the back seat!)

    8) Never assume you know the sexual orientation of your youth, their parents or family members.

    9) Never call youth after 10:00 PM on a school night unless you want to incur the wrath of their parents (besides, this is the time when they are supposed to be in their rooms, pretending to study, while they talk to their friends on the cellphone.)

    10) Never show a movie before previewing the whole thing (a mistake I should have learned from in my teens when my youth leaders showed us "An American Werewolf in London" -- sex scenes and all!)

    11) Never assume that your youth group members are keeping their parents "in the loop" about what you are doing in your ministry.

    12) Never forget that, once you add them to your "friends list" on Facebook, your youth can see everything you are posting (unless you can figure the ins-and-outs of how to block them from reading your politically charged rants or the photos of you from the high school glee club.)

    13) Never buy into the lie that just because the other youth ministries in town have more teens that you must be doing wrong. Just keep loving your youth and modeling, as best you can, Christ's way of peace, justice, and grace.

    Anybody have any more to add? (Remember, to be fair, they should be things you've actually done yourself!)

    --Brian

    47 comments:

    Jay Miklovic said...

    I have done a number of items on your list as well, definitely a good list.

    Never encourage youth to break rules their parents have set, regardless of how foolish you feel those rules to be.

    (Proper path is to deal with those rules with the parents and explain why you will be doing something different.)

    Brian said...

    Amen, Jay. In fact,undermining parents is a good "never do this" thing to add to the list.

    KaGe said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    KaGe said...

    How about never sacrifice an animal in the church...unless you have permission from the janitor?

    Ooo...BIG number 7...I got a close friend right now that's getting burned real bad because of this one...

    Brian said...

    Uh KaGe...I think we need to hear the details on the "sacrificing an animal" story!

    Jay Miklovic said...

    KaGe-

    I think you need to post the story of this sacrifice on your blog!! I am dying to hear it...

    agreed that #7 is a good piece 'never do that' advice, but one that handcuffs us in a lot of ways. Grr... it frustrates me to no end that I cannot pick up a youth and go play racquetball or whatever.

    Kenny Hard QuĂ­mio said...

    I'm a youth leader, I'm from Brazil. I think that's a very good "never do this" list to youth ministry.
    Overall I can say the youth ministry around the world need upright leaders.

    Kenny Hard - SYOH Blogs

    Jay Miklovic said...

    I would take kenny's post and actually add it to the list.

    "Never bring a leader on board in your ministry order to minister to that leader."

    (Know your leader's character and ability to lead before giving them access to the kids.)

    Obviously this is all within reason, no leader is perfect and you can set the bar too high, but you should at least have a bar to set. Moreover we should minister to our leaders, that is our job. However we should not bring them on board simply to minister to them.

    I brought a young man on board once for that reason... major backfire.

    Luke said...

    I would have to say out of all of those rules, the most important is actually 13. In the past i have been easily discouraged when I hear about the numbers of other youth groups, or discouraged by the fact I get 4 kids out to an event that I thought was awesome. I am still learning how to process this but the shift from numbers based merit is hard. Remember Christ invested in 12 disciples when he got really big groups around him he often slipped away.

    wayhip said...

    Great list and we always need to be reminded. One thing I would add is to be careful about giving advice to teens, especially if it involves some sort of conflict or other situation with their parents.

    T. said...

    Never do anything for young people they can learn to do themselves!

    noob blogger 101 said...

    great! i was considering canceling a trip coming up do to lack of commitment but that is great advice@ thanks so much for the info

    noob blogger 101

    coreyrose said...

    Good stuff dude. I might add the following:

    Never give a youth the keys to your car to "get something out of the back for me..."

    Or in my case, the church van... I'll write about it some day!

    @coreydrose on twitter

    Dana said...

    I agree with number 7, too. However, we have special permission forms and a policy about speaking with parents before transporting youth, period.

    Anthony McKeown said...

    After years of doing youth ministry, I now say "never minister to just the youth." Teens are part of a family but there often exists an "us against them" mindset in youth ministry because we (youth leaders) often are doing things parents aren't happy with or we're not doing enough!
    In spite of this, I'm convinced that some of the most powerful youth ministry can be to the parents and not the youth. If we can help (A) empower parents to be the primary spiritual leaders in their home and (B) address the "sins of the fathers" that they're passing onto their children, that is HUGE! I've found that by doing A & B, we can help increase the chances of our youth maintaining a relationship with Christ after leaving home and graduating from our youth groups. At the end of the day, it's the parents who will continue to walk and lead their kids (good or bad) for the rest of their lives and not us!

    Anthony McKeown said...

    After years of doing youth ministry, I now say "never minister to just the youth." Teens are part of a family but there often exists an "us against them" mindset in youth ministry because we (youth leaders) often are doing things parents aren't happy with or we're not doing enough!
    In spite of this, I'm convinced that some of the most powerful youth ministry can be to the parents and not the youth. If we can help (A) empower parents to be the primary spiritual leaders in their home and (B) address the "sins of the fathers" that they're passing onto their children, that is HUGE! I've found that by doing A & B, we can help increase the chances of our youth maintaining a relationship with Christ after leaving home and graduating from our youth groups. At the end of the day, it's the parents who will continue to walk and lead their kids (good or bad) for the rest of their lives and not us!

    Micah said...

    I just graduated Highschool and from personal experience I would say "Never confess your own sins to the youth while trying to tell them to stop sinning." (This gives the youth the impression that they will never achieve the goal you have set for them. Youth look up to the pastor as the guy who is close to God(because he should be) and telling them you sin while teaching them not to only takes away there hope of achieving their goal.)

    Blueberry said...

    Never assume - don't assume your kids know how to act or your leaders know what to do or how to act either. make your expectations clear to both leaders and youth

    Blueberry said...

    don't assume - don't assume anything. Set your expectations out for both leaders and youth and don't assume they know what you would expect in a situation

    jwmjr511 said...

    I'll admit, #1 suprised me a bit, seems like one of those 'goes with out saying' ones. But I am glad you said it.. someone needs to hear it. Personally I like to use icebreaker games because they help new youth feel welcome and regulars build unity and trust.

    Alisha said...

    My husband and I are new to "youth ministry" Our 1st class was last Wednesday for which I had my 7 year old niece, my 11 year old niece, my 7 year old nephew and one 12 year old member of the church. We are supposed to have only the 13-18 year olds. However, I didn't want to cancel, I was afraid it would show the younger ones that they don't matter. So we had class and had a blast.

    One question about this post so far,
    Excuse my naivete, but why #7? Safety, accusations of inappropriate conduct, the opinions of others, preventing "crushes" from youth? or all of the above?
    For both male and female youth leaders? I have so much to learn.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Alisha, welcome to youth ministry and good luck with your group. I think you are exactly right to go ahead and work with the youth you have and let them know that they do matter.

    As to your questions regarding, #7 - Yes to all of them. We have a rule of two in our ministry, meaning no adult is ever alone with youth -- at least two of us are always present and in sight of each other. It it doesn't just apply to opposite genders -- boys don't drive alone with male leadersa and the same for girls and adult female leaders. This is for the protection of adults and youth.

    delsey said...

    I have to dissagree with never confess your sins to a student. It's harmful to present yourself as perfect because what teen thinks they can be that and how damaging when they fail. We should be wise in what we share with them but it's very powerful to be real and share your struggles and what helps you to stay on track. Keeping our lives pure is hard and we should never pretend otherwise we just have to show Jesus is worth it and it can be done even with failures. Hearing how others fight the same battles as I do helps me feel that I'm not the only one and I have a chance especially if it's a leader that I admire.

    TJ said...

    Rule #7 is a good rule but one that I feel can be "broken". I would say that it depends on the teen. I would never be caught alone with a teen girl but it for ne it woukd delend on the guy. I have built relationships with teen guys before and their parents asked me to drive them to practices. I even took one of my teens for a 3 hr round trip road trip to go pick up a mattress my wife and I had bought. I will tell you that we bounded on that trip. I got hin away from his friends and we talked about things he would have never talked about. So for #7, I woukd advise this: Never EVER be alone with the opposite sex and know your teens before you are alone with the ones that are the same gender as you.

    Brian Kirk said...

    TJ, thanks for your comment. My caveat to your approach is to mention what happened with Penn State. There you had an adult who was allowed to be alone with youth of the same gender and the results were devastating. So although we know ourselves and know that we are trustworthy, the trick is to be careful you are not setting a precedent which allows some other adult who may be a sexual predator to be alone with students.

    timgough said...

    Considering I run one of those blogs that "tells us what to do" I was tempted to switch off - however - that said I found it a very helpful list!

    Would probably add "never say you can keep a secret until you hear it. - Fatal error." and "never play a prank on the senior pastor's wife."

    Cheers n' blessings
    t.

    Brandon said...

    Consider this post printed and posted in my office!!

    I am still confused about #7 though...For example, the other week a father of a male student had two tickets to a College basketball game that he could not go to. He asked me if i wanted to go and take his son. I gladly said yes and his son and I had a great time...in fact, he got exposure to how his pastor acts in public.

    I agree that leaders should never be alone with the opposite sex, but some of my best mentoring times come when i am one on one with my teen boys...

    Brian Kirk said...

    Hi Brandon. Thanks for posting. The issue with #7 is boundaries for your safety and that of the youth. If you are alone with a student and something happens or is misinterpreted, it becomes your word against the student -- not a good situation for either of you. Additionally, it helps as pastors, I think,if we set the example. I would not want in of the adults in my ministry to be alone with a student. Look at the situation with the coach at Penn State. It was assumed that because he was a guy alone with boys it was no problem. The Catholic Church has run into the same problem.

    My suggestion regarding the scenario of the ball game -- have the parent drop the student at the stadium and you meet up there. That way, you are only together in a public space, observable by others. After the game, have the parent pick the student up and you drive home alone.

    bloglearner said...

    Never check the roll of registered riders on the bus when you leave to go somewhere and only count the teens when you get ready to leave.

    I did that once when I took the youth group to a movie on summer afternoon. Those with permission slips got on and we enjoyed the movie. I counted as they on and we returned to the campground. An hour later a teen ran into my tent yelling "You left at the movie." I seemed a parent dropped off their teen and he rode back with us but nobody told me. Better to take role going and coming.

    havefaith said...

    I would say #7 and also never have non ministry leaders transport kids. I've done both!!! Our pastor found out at have a fit! But, honestly, I don't think it was a huge deal. I'm a female. We had a mother, and my 19 year old brother (not a leader), as well as my twin brother, 6 of their guy friends from church, and five girls. I sent three girls with the one girls mother. I took one girl, one of my twin brothers, and three guys. And I had our other twin brother, and three guys ride with my 19 brother. So... I basically made our non screened adults were not with the opposite sex, or alone with students, and that I wasn't alone students either... especially the opposite sex. I see nothing wrong with me transporting a girl, or my brothers and there friends, as long as I'm not alone with some random studnet. I'd do it all over again that way too. I know rules are for the best, but sometimes I feel it keeps us from being relational with our students.

    John Wesley Naidoo said...

    Always know where your youth are in terms Spiritual matters don't assume things or you'd loose them.

    Susan said...

    As a parent I must comment: Don't use youth group as your therapy session. If you need to step away for the night find someone else to lead. Youth do not need to hear how your older brother left his wife for someone else and then watch you cry. Also, even during small group time the leaders need to be reminded this is the time for the students to talk you and you to facilitate. It is not a therapy time for the small group leader either. My daughter dislikes youth group for this reason. She states that if they need a counselor then they should go and not use us.

    Samantha Cochran said...

    Great list thanks for sharing. Sometimes we as youth leaders forget to be cautious in what we do because we are so caught up in getting these kids closer to Jesus and we get so excited when they show up. I have a newer youth group grades 6 thru 12 and we have an average of 12 students weekly...they are awesome and even if only 4 of them show up we still have group. To Alisha i wanted to say that in the county i live in we had to take a class called Safe Sanctuarys which teaches us all we need to know about working with kids who arent our own. We alway have to have 2 unrelated people with the group at all times. Never be in a room alone with a child. Always make sure you are in view of other people. Its not only for their safety its also for your safety too. If theres ever a point where you find you are going to be left alone with a member of your youth group..take out your phone and call a friend and have them come. Like the end of a trip you took and parents havent made it yet to pick them up and everyone else is already gone. Always protect them and yourself. Happy Worshipping!!!

    Bridget said...

    Been in student ministry for about 15 years now and it's so sad to me that #7 exists in our world. I agree with Brian for the most part because of all the rotten things that have happened to kids because of sicko adults. I do think this can be a case by case. I'm a girl and usually take gals to coffee or yogurt; puck them up from school drop them off at their home when done. And these guys are right sometimes parents ask you to drive their kids. But I definitely try to never be alone with a boy if no one is around and to not drive boys without someone else. Or if I'm driving a boy and a girl home, I'll drop the boy off first. Just food for thought I suppose. Still sad.

    Timbo said...

    This is an awesome list! I have made some of these mistakes myself and I hope others take heed! They are a bummer to have to learn the hard way. :o)

    chelseabvdm said...

    Quick question: Why #7? I just recently began volunteering in ministry and have only driven 1 student so far. I used to be driven around by my youth pastor all the time.

    chelseabvdm said...

    never mind, just read all of the comments. so sad and frustrating

    Brian Kirk said...

    Just a word here to the idea that you can get around rule #7 if you are driving around youth of your own gender. Here's the thing. Unless you are absolutely sure of a student's sexual orientation, you may still be putting YOURSELF at risk. If that student happens to be interested in YOU, you may not find this out until you are in a car, alone, and then you've placed your self and that student in a compromising position.

    Stephanne said...

    This is a great list, I would add never do a how many pickled pig’s feet can you eat activity within spew range of where the choir sits on Sunday morning….. No matter how large the trash can was…. That I put right next to him, and then he turned around and…. Anyway not such a great idea.

    Rob Dennis said...

    Want some one on one time with a kid? Have them meet you at Starbucks or something. You would be amazed at how much privacy you really have without being alone.

    Tyler Schlitzkus said...

    In addition to rule #8: never assume their (or their relations') sexual orientations, but never shy away from plainly telling them what the Bible says.

    mikemayer67 said...

    I help out with youth ministry events, but am not one of the youth leaders. I am, however, a very active boy scout leader with many feathers in my hat (including SM).

    Just want to point out that this list is good for any organized group dedicated to helping youth grow into good/solid adults.

    The only item I would add is to be very careful to never violate trust. We are often granted an extreme honor of being adults with whom these kids choose to open up and share facts that they don't necessarily want to discuss with their parents. We must walk a very fine line. We must let parents know when their children are in risk of harm (physical or emotional). But, we risk losing that honored position if we cross the line lightly.

    Cristina said...

    Great list! I've been a "victim" of a number of these in my COLLEGE group (I need to qualify that), especially #1 and #3. I spoke up about #1 because I had a problem of conscience participating in a root beer kegger, and I was told I didn't care about evangelism enough (I care a great deal, in fact). It became a rather divisive issue because the leaders began pressuring the students to participate, encouraged them to be rowdy and vomit, and even rated the quality of the vomit! College is a different animal than youth group, I'm aware, but part of the reason I was part of a college group in the first place was to stay away from that sort of thing.

    #1 and #3 tie together so well. You see, regardless of age—youth or college or beyond—trying to be "cool" discounts and alienates a lot of people. I became frustrated that I was discouraged from being mentored by older and wiser members of the church. The "cool" crowd won't help the general church with service projects because they don't think they're important enough, and over time, the "cool" crowd just becomes the "most doctrinally correct" crowd, still keeping most of the church and the uncool and the spiritually weak at bay. Jesus did not do this.

    Of course, anything taken to the extreme can be destructive, so I hope that was somewhat relevant. :)

    Brian Kirk said...

    Cristina, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do think all of this applies equally to both youth groups and college ministries. Leading Christian ministries in both of these settings challenges us to always look at the programs and activities we plan through the lens of the Church's wider mission of promoting God's peace, justice and compassion. My rule with activities like those faux drinking games is to ask 1) Is this supporting the Church's mission 2) Even if you can argue that it is in some small way, might there be a better activity that would do a better job of it.

    Jason Taylor said...

    Kind of surprised there are so many questions about #7. It's simple: don't be alone. Ever. Live by conviction, not 'case-by-case.' No matter how well you think you know a student, never put yourself in the situation. Ever. Do you realize that even if nothing happens, all it takes is an accusation and you're done in ministry? Done. I've seen it. Don't risk losing a lifetime of God using you in ministry because you want to be relational for a few moments. Plan ahead, have enough volunteers, etc., and use discernment. Above reproach, folks.

    Deborah Craton said...

    #14 get involved with your teens' romances! In a youth group there are always going to be couples. And, those couples sometimes breakup and sometimes there are terribly hurt feelings. The youth minister should be understanding, compassionate and try to direct those feeling toward a positive outcome. They should NEVER take sides and should NEVER tell a youth they are " in the front on the bus on a one way trip to hell".

    Shevon George said...

    I would think the proper path would be to respect the parents rules and encourage their children to do the same. Explaining to them that you will be doing things differently, when their child is involved, would be a good way to disrespect the parents and possibly get senior pastor involved..