Well, it’s actually rather depressing that I am now submitting round 2 of my student ministry mistakes. Of course, they might not always seem like mistakes at the time, but that’s the beauty of years of experiences, successes and failures, we’re allowed the opportunity to have a little perspective! So this is where you come in. Learn from my mistakes, so you don’t have to repeat them! That would actually be a good saying, in fact, one might even say that “those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it!” Wow, that was profound, not so much original, but profound. Anyways, here goes:
- Think that you can replace parents. Really? Let’s just play a simple numbers game. You have direct influence with your students maybe 3 hours a week? Some perhaps a little more, but many perhaps even less. And we honestly think that we can influence them more in that small amount of time than parents that have the opportunity to impart into their little lives the majority of the time? Here’s where student pastors frequently go wrong: we think that we’re in competition with parents. Like they’re the enemy or something! Your best move would be to work together, in concert with parents, to maximize your influence in your student’s lives.
- Believe your ministry is the most important one in the church. Ladies and gentlemen, I beseech thee (pardon the King James word choice), next time your church holds a leadership meeting, ask all of the other department heads, many of whom are probably old enough to be your parents or even grandparents, to get down on the floor and bow down to you. And you think what happened to Joseph was bad! You and your ministry will function the most efficiently and effectively when you work together with the rest of the departments in your church! In fact, join up with the Ladies Ministry or Children’s Ministry to put on an event that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do on your own!
- Operate as if you have all the answers. I do realize that many times, as the captain of the youth ministry ship, we can’ t allow ourselves to panic or lose our bearings, but sometimes it’s okay if you admit that you don’t have all the answers. Actually, I’m almost relieved every once in a while, when I hear a leader other than myself admit that they have a few weaknesses and don’t always have everything all figured out!
- Refuse to admit you or your idea was wrong. Confession, one of (what I believed to be) my finest life’s work actually turned out to be the equivalent of a Jack Baueresque torture session for our students. I had this great idea that I was going to get our students to read more. So, I found what was supposed to be an interesting book, made everyone purchase it (mistake number 1), and then I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing an original workbook that each student could use every week for 12 weeks (mistake number 2), to follow along and reinforce what they were reading. Not long thereafter, one really brave student confessed that they weren’t too crazy about the idea, and then, of course, 100% of the rest of the students chimed in in agreement. Needless to say, I have not traveled down that road since, nor do I ever plan to do that series again! Ever!
- Have too much pride to apologize (publicly) when you’ve made a mistake. This one was a really tough pill for me to swallow. Years ago at a youth camp, standing in front of a couple hundred students, I made a lame attempt at a joke (which I frequently do) yet this time it was at the expense of a student. Guess what happened. This student cried. Yep, I made a kid cry in front of all his peers. Horrible…shameful I know. But this is the great thing about student ministry. As easily as I broke something, I could just as easily fix it! Of course, it came at the expense of me swallowing my pride, and literally going to about a dozen small groups, and apologizing for my lapse in judgement and my poor taste and weak attempt at a joke.
Well, the good news is, the student that I publicly humiliated and embarrassed all those years ago, tracked me down at our annual youth convention just last year, and proudly introduced me to his dad and brother. If I’m not mistaken, this young man is now in the military, actually doing something constructive with his life! Who knows what would have happened if I had not owned up to my mistake, and resolved to fix it!
Enjoy this incredible journey that we call student ministry. And learn from my mistakes, instead of being doomed to repeat them.
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