I've been in youth ministry for almost ten years now. Yes... I was working as a youth pastor even when I was teenager. Get this - I was even a college pastor during my senior year in high school (I know all about disfunction).
I spent three years working at Youth For The Nations (camp for teens that reached over 4,000 students) and worked as a Student Pastor for three years in Abilene, Texas. We saw a youth group of 12 kids explode to almost 300 students every week with signs, wonders, miracles, healings and salvations every week. And most recently, I worked at Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC - heavily involved with eStudents and Student Takeover Camp.
Over the years I have learned a few things - through successes and many failures. Here's a few I desperately want to share with Student Pastors:
1. Stop Building Silos
The youth pastor position in a church is unlike any other - it's really the only other position where you are pastoring a small church. It's made up of congregants, volunteers, staff and includes giving, events, regular weekly meetings, outreach, etc. Too often I find that youth pastors who are frustrated with the immobility and non-evolving church find an outlet to create their own church within their youth ministry. And even more often than that, the youth ministry has no heart for the house and hardly prioritizes student involvement on Sundays and church-wide serving opportunities.
My first plea to you would be to check your heart. Are you creating your own church within your church that REPLACES Sundays for students? Are you doing your OWN thing? Are you implementing the vision of the church and honoring your senior pastor in front of your kids?
Student Ministry isn't your opportunity to shine - it's your opportunity to specify the message towards a certain age-group/demographic. The ultimate goal? Get students saved and discipled and get them bringing their parents to church on Sundays. If all you're doing is eating up resources but never aiding to the main vision of your church, you've got a Silo.
2. Stop trying to be famous
Wednesday nights are not your night to show the Instagram world how awesome you preached. If you're a pastor, your main responsibility is to SHEPHERD. That means that your focus needs to be on the growth and development of your flock, not Facebook. Instead of posting about yourself, post about the stories of students who are finding breakthrough in God. Showcase SUBSTANCE not SELF. The world needs to know what Jesus is doing in a generation - not how awesome you are so they can book you for their next conference.
If you're using your local church to gain you a traveling platform, you're simply prostituting the platform God has already given you for something more. Look - there's nothing wrong with traveling and desiring to preach at other churches. But if you are a PASTOR, this can't be your main objective. So many pastors are busy building successful ministries - NOT FOR THE PEOPLE - but for the PROMOTION. If your goal is to be a traveling evangelist (which there's nothing wrong with), then go do that. But don't try to get there at the expense of your local church.
There's nothing less respectable than a pastor who has more of a heart to be famous than he does to be faithful with those God has entrusted to him. We need to check our motives.
3. Stop measuring success
When I was a youth pastor I would often leave the building frustrated after the service was over because it didn't go the way I wanted it to. Maybe we didn't have as many students as last week or maybe the altar call just wasn't as powerful. I would begin to say things like, "that sucked," or "we just bombed tonight." What I didn't realize was that when I let these words come out of my mouth I waged war on every breakthrough that God did in students I knew nothing about. I spoke death over things I saw in the natural but neglected to speak life over what God was doing in the supernatural.
Success is not measured by attendance, it's measured by obedience. Did you do what God called you to do? Did you preach and minister to students the way that THEY needed you to? Did you pour into your leaders and volunteers and make sure that they aren't burnt out? Did you spend time in prayer before AND after the service - believing God to finish the work He started? Did you love well?
Stop wearing your frustration on your sleeve. Your students and volunteers pick it up. They will also end up reproducing it, no matter what you teach from the pulpit. You only can reproduce what you are - not what you say. So start celebrating what God has done instead of getting frustrated with what you didn't see. Stop measuring success in earthly ways. Start seeing success as obedience and faithfulness to simply show up and do what God called you to do.
4. Stop Doubting Yourself
Look - youth ministry can be tough. It can be disappointing and discouraging. Believe me - I didn't have "Blue-Thursdays" simply because the "blue" came as soon as I got home after service on Wednesday night! But over the years I have realized something: whenever I am frustrated, disappointed or discouraged, chances are, I'm paying more attention to myself than I am to God. And more than likely, my focus is on something other than Jesus being lifted up.
We begin to doubt ourselves because we are looking AT ourselves. Stop doing that. Look at Christ in you. He is faithful to complete the work He started. You don't HAVE to do what you're doing - you GET to do it. You GET to be a part of seeing student's lives changed every week. You GET to be a part of loving your volunteers well. You GET to be a part of seeing the Kingdom established in your church and in your student ministry. You GET to exalt Jesus.
Stop paying so much attention to your shortcomings... they only lead to opportunity for God to come in and do a miracle. You're called, you're chosen and the best is yet to come.