20 Years of Youth Ministry

I have been a youth minister for 20+ years. Due to a financial struggle in the church, this past week was my first week away from it. I have many memories (both good and bad) – many friendships – many lessons-learned during this time. Here are a few of the most important things I learned:

1. Those rough students who really need Jesus, really need you to defend them, stand up for them, love them. You might even have to protect them from the church people.

2. Quality moments happen randomly in the most unexpected moments during quantity time.

3. Seeds planted where you never see fruit may become fruitful after a student leaves the youth ministry.

4. It’s the church people who will hurt you the most.

5. You’re having an impact on kids that you didn’t even know were paying attention – even those who don’t show up to your events.

6. Some of the strongest students in a youth ministry will also have parents who are modeling a life of loving Jesus. These students are the ones who always say, “No, don’t let my parent volunteer.” But the ministry can’t happen without those parents and the students are inwardly glad their parents are there.

Some of the strongest students in a youth ministry will have parents who are not even Christians. These students have “done it all” and know they need Jesus desperately. They will be the ones who will be your greatest evangelists.

Most of the students who are nominal Christians, have parents who are nominal Christians.

7. Confirmation should not be the end of a student’s time in ministry. Parents who come to you for help when their 16-yr-old son is in trouble with the law have unrealistic expectations if you haven’t seen him since confirmation. Do your best to help anyway, ’cause God can do miracles, but. . .man, it’s a tough spot to be in. It’s always best if a student has a healthy relationship with the youth minister.

8. Dads who play golf (or fish or whatever) to “be with God” are still the spiritual leaders in their homes. They still lead their children. They just lead them to the golf course instead of into a community of faith.

9. Mission trips do more for the missionaries than for those being reached.

10. “If you sleep with someone you’ll wake up friends.” (Thanks Kelly) Retreats and over night outings are important for true community to develop.

11. The size of the youth ministry budget is a better indicator than the church’s words about their commitment to youth. What a church is willing to sacrifice is directly related to their true concern for youth.

12. The future of a youth ministry is directly related to the health of the youth minister’s relationship with the Sr. Pastor (or his supervisor).

13. There will be some people who you will never make happy. Heck, they’re not even happy with Jesus yet.

14. Students will learn how to push your buttons. If you’re able, you should let them push and then show them grace. They’ll be walking down the aisle and never know what hit ’em.

15. Jesus is always relevant.

16. Students who hang out with you will be your greatest supporters. If they keep hanging out when they graduate and go to college, you should consider them “family.”

17. Don’t let ministry get in the way of family or a healthy marriage. Your commitment to them may be the greatest thing you’ll ever teach a student.

18. There are some families who are actually living out God’s call for parents to lead their children. These students may not “need” the youth ministry, but they can be great assets.

19. The greatest youth ministry is the one that can run itself when the youth minister is gone.

20. If you love Jesus and you love students, you’re qualified for youth ministry.


Some other stuff I’ve learned: (Some fun. Some really sad.)

1. Even if your budget is small, don’t try to make your own “bungee-run.” It’s been at least 10 years, and one of my students may still have whelps on his. . . oh nevermind.

2. Even if drawing maps of Israel is not your forte, you should do it anyway. It might end up as an inside joke which unites the group.

3. Even people who don’t like being with students can be involved in praying for the ministry.

4. True community can be mistaken for cliques. Sometimes people want to feel like they’re on the outside.

5. Christian magicians might smoke weed behind closed doors.

6. Pastors might be having affairs behind closed. . .well, out in the open.

7. A good youth minister is not usually “real surprised” by how a student ends up as an adult. Habits are formed early and usually continue into adulthood.

8. Even your finest student athletes can be putty in your hands on a ski slope.

9. Spittoons in the sanctuary make people nervous.

10. Potty breaks on the road are important for maintaining dry car seats.

11. Too much hiking can cause feet to look like pudding under a thin layer of skin.

12. When mama (or the business manager) is happy, everyone is happy. Keep your receipts or she might not be.

13. Laughter is better than chemotherapy. (idea from Anne LaMott)

14. Dog bowls aren’t intended for serving eggs to students.

15. Youth Ministry Rules work for all of life too:

1. Represent Jesus.(1 Peter 2:21)

2. Stay in groups of 3 (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

3. Have Fun.

36 thoughts on “20 Years of Youth Ministry

  1. Cheri

    Amazing insight Steve! You are an unforgettable youth minister. It was a joy to work with you. When we moved to Florida the youth group was the hardest thing Cody and I left. Wishing you peace always.

  2. Kelly Marler Davidson

    Great stuff, Steve! You are welcome for #10. Thank you for loving kids for 20+ years. You were a wonderful mentor to 3 of my kids, and you impacted my whole family's life in so many positive ways. Our memories in youth ministry are such a significant part of our family history. I could write forever about our positive experience (you know that's true). But I'll just keep it short and say that you are such a blessing to so many. Keep loving God and people. You don't have to be in paid ministry to minister.

  3. Sonya Hunt

    SteveIt has been over ten years since I came to The Wave and my world was turned upside-down. I can never thank you enough for sacrificing so much to allow Christ to work through you. It wasn’t until years after I had left your youth group that I realized how lucky I was to have a pastor who lived in humility, loved the Lord and His Truth. Our prayers are with you as you walk on unsteady ground, and draw closer to our Father who has always provided for you. We hope that you will continue to live a life of sacrificial love that has allowed you be hurt but showed me a glimpse of Christ’s love for even me.Sonya

  4. Steve Corn

    Jeanie: Yeah. You're so right. I should've put something about business managers in there. Something about losing receipts and having to talk to Wanda. Maybe I'll go back and put that in.

  5. Jeanie Beylund

    I'm an original, that's for sure. Aren't you glad they broke the mold after Wanda appeared? You might be surprised to hear that she doesn't appear much anymore!! Could it be….might it be…I'm mellowing. Oh no, say it ain't so!!

  6. Jean Helton Hurst

    Steve,
    Anyone told you lately how awesome you are? If not; STEVE YOU ARE AWESOME!!! I thank god that you were and will always be in my kids and my life through our hearts, and memories! Even our younger ones that did not get to reach the youth ministry with you before you left TUMC remember you from the older ones. I have enjoyed reading your words. Thanks for sharing and as always God will Bless YOU!

  7. Deana Davidson Olszewski

    Steve,
    Thank you for always being their and always caring. As i look back at my life I have so many memmories of you being around. You have helped shape my life in more ways than you could ever know. I thank you for asking me the hard questions (if it were not for you, I might not be following Jesus today). You have done a GREAT job over the past 20 years! In my years of doing ministary to come I can only hope I will be half has good at doing ministary as you were. Thank you for Loving Jesus, Sharing the Gospel and showing grace. You and your family are in my prayers daily.

  8. Roger Curtis Leitschuh

    20 years as a Youth Minister in title but you ministered to much more than the young. God bless you … And yes I would buy and read your book… This may not have been yours originally but changed my untitled ministry … No one cares what you know until they know you care … so simple and yet so true… for Jesus I know has a message for me to share through a ministry of care. Thanks for the years of sharing and caring for my children… Throne Together and prayers. Young and Senior-Youith fellowship and worship. Yours truely … Young at heart too…

  9. Jacqueline Jones Gray

    What Roger said…you ministered to our youth but you also impacted our adults, definitely me. You have no idea how much you are loved and appreciated, Steve. I miss your sweet spirit at church so much. You are one of those people who is such a reflection of Jesus. Keep up the good work, no matter what work God calls you into. I’m praying!

  10. Chris Joseph

    I can say this it’s been many years since I was a part of your youth ministry, and you touched my life in ways you may never know, you have a true heart for youth, and I know God will bless you in the journey he has in store for you next, If there were more people like you out there this world would be a better place

  11. Kristen Rhodes

    That’s right, you may never know the impact until years later. I can honestly say that those few years in the youth group in high school planted seeds that developed later in my life. I was listening and paying attention, even though I was quiet. Steve, thank you for all you have done! May God bless you. Class of 1996

  12. Steve Corn Post author

    Wow!! You guys are such an encouragement. Thanks. I have been so blessed to have been able to be a part of each of your lives. It’s truly humbling to be invited by God into His work.

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