Part-time youth ministry sounds like a challenging gig, but it can benefit the overall culture of the church. As I think about how to excel in a part-time ministry role, two elements stand out.
Communication is the first and most important part of the equation and should happen on multiple levels, but even more importantly, clear expectations can be the source of or the solution to many challenges part-time youth pastors may face.
Understand Their Expectations
Leaders, parents, students, volunteers, and pretty much everyone else at the church have an idea of what a part-time youth pastor can do, so it is important to understand the specifics of what is expected.
There are important things to listen for and, if possible, get in the written form of a job description.
What does the leadership expect of you in terms of time in the office, connecting with students outside office hours, weekly meetings, and weekly programming? What does the leadership expect the program to look like in six months, a year, or two years? What do parents hope for their students? What do the students want and expect?
Making it a priority to discover each group’s expectations will help you navigate them.
Communicate Realistic Expectations
Sometimes navigating those expectations means recalibrating to reality but also emphasizing what’s possible rather than what isn’t.
“We are excited about the ways our leadership teams, as well as our student leaders, will be given opportunities and empowered to shape and lead in our student ministry.”
“Well, since I’m only part-time, you guys are going to have to do more.”
While both these statements are true, the first focuses on the opportunities a challenge provides and sets the tone for how your team will manage expectations moving forward.
Manage Your Own Expectations
In middle school, a man at my church offered me $50 to rake and bag the leaves in his yard. I immediately said yes because it sounded like a lot of money for a fairly easy job. My dad dropped me off, looked at the vast sea of leaves, and asked, “What time do you think you’ll be done?”
“Couple of hours!” I said with all the enthusiasm of a middle school boy dreaming about how $50 could change his entire world.
After four days, 50 bags, 18 blisters, and a measly $50 in payment, I finally finished the project feeling frustrated, defeated, and hostile toward mother nature. Do trees even NEED that many leaves?
What I thought was possible was ambitious at best mainly because I had not taken on a project of that magnitude before, so I had no point of reference for what I should expect.
Make sure to think through what is possible in the time you have. Many youth pastors believe that almost anything can happen in 20 minutes, but the reality is it takes time to build a healthy youth ministry, and at a part-time scale, you must use the time you have efficiently.
As a part-time youth worker, you will soon realize the benefit of building, developing, and empowering teams of people. Together, you will accomplish more than you ever could alone. With a team, you can get more done and those you enlist will be more engaged and invested in the ministry’s success. It’s a double bonus! You also have the unique opportunity to be deeper in the trenches with them by inviting them to do life in ministry together. To this day, some of my closest friends are those I leaned on the most.
Practice “Keychain Leadership” With Students
Students can do stuff—all they may need is an opportunity. In “Growing Young,” Fuller Youth Institute found that churches that were willing to give students access or “keys” to the ministry by showing them how to do a particular task and then entrusting them with access to the building, tech, or tools they needed to do the task showed an increase in ownership and buy-in from those key recipients.
Our worship team was comprised completely of students, and I was constantly running back and forth from my office to the youth room to let them in, give them access to the storage, put the password in for this or that, and it was frustrating for both sides.
When I gave them access to the space and equipment they needed, they began to see themselves as more than just kids playing and singing—they were part of the team. They began sharing prayer times and devotionals and, within a few months, were the most cohesive group I’ve ever served with. All they needed was to be trusted with the keys.
Focus on One or Two Things At A Time
It may feel like there are a dozen things to work on at any given moment in your ministry, but I would encourage you to focus on one or two at a time. If you give real attention to a few things, they can become great, but nothing can become more than mediocre if you try to focus on too many things.
Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
When your time is short and your resources seem slim, I encourage you to reflect on something I have forgotten and remembered many times over: relationships are the most important thing.
If you have to choose between spending your time cleaning or being with a student, think about combining the two. If you have a five-minute commute, use it to call a student. When you are unsure what to do next, write a text or a note to encourage a student.
Students have been entrusted to you by a loving God who desires a deeper and more intimate relationship with them (and us!), so remember (again) why you are reading this: You have been called to a powerful and life-wrecking yet beautiful thing in youth ministry, and the same Jesus who holds you now can hold them too.
Know God is with you.