Earlier this year, this youth minister meme began showing up everywhere in social media:
While it made me chuckle, I couldn't help but think, “This confusion is real.” People really don't understand what it is we do.
And this is true not just of people outside the church, but inside the church as well.
At each of the three churches I've worked at, there's come a point when I've had to explain to the teens I serve that I actually work for the church. After doing so, I almost always get the question, “But what is it you do during the day? You know, when we're not around?” I've gotten the same questions from parents... And from my husband's co-workers... And from random people on vacation whenever I find myself in the “What do you do?” conversation.
So here's what an average week as a youth pastor entails:
- Time with teens in weekly programs: In my context, I lead three weekly gatherings with youth each week – Sunday school, an hour long Leadership Team meeting, and a Wednesday night gathering.
- Time with teens outside of weekly programming: In any given week, I also meet with a lot of teens one-on-one. My goal is one such meeting each week day work day, which amounts to four of these meetings a week. Two of these are with girls I mentor. The other two are with teens I want to check-in with, follow-up on something with, or need to meet with for something like a Leadership Team Interview, discussion prep, or a one-on-one debriefing of our summer mission trip.
- Preparation for time with teens: Though there's no hard and fast rule for this, in general, it takes me approximately two hours to prep an hour of face-time with teens (regardless of whether that's a one-on-one meeting with a teen or one of our weekly programs.) This prep time can be spent on a variety of things including reading background material to prepare for whatever it is I'm teaching on, writing a talk or discussion, reading the book I'm discussing with one of the girls I mentor, creating experiential activities, or even buying supplies for games or experiential activities. Additionally, even though I'm not the person who leads this, each week I also write the curriculum for our confirmation's Sunday school class.
- Extra events: Approximately twice a month, we hold an extra event like a social or service event or a book club. In addition to giving me more face-time with teens, these events also require additional preparation time during the week.
- Supporting teens outside the walls of the church: Whenever possible, I try to attend events that teens are involved with. For example, this Friday, I'll be attending one of my student's Christmas concerts. This gives me an opportunity to interact with teen's families and to show teens that I care about their lives outside of church as well.
- Investment in adult leaders: Good ministry cannot happen by yourself. Since I know this, each week I spend time investing in adult leaders. Some weeks I use this time for recruitment. Other weeks I use it for meeting one-on-one with leaders. Still others I use it for formal training.
- Set-up and clean-up: Every program also requires room set-up and clean-up.
- Staff meetings and one-on-one's with my boss: Each week, I attend a weekly staff meeting with my colleagues at church. These meetings help us stay informed about what's happening in each area of ministry as well as the church as a whole. I also meet one-on-one with my boss to celebrate what God's doing in our ministries and troubleshoot any problems I'm facing.
- Calendaring : This is when I schedule upcoming special events like social events, service events, retreats, and trips. In general, I try to schedule social and service events two months out, overnight retreats six months out, and trips a year in advance. I also use this time to plan and refine our ministry's teaching calendar.
- Communication: Without frequent communication, people are often confused over what's going on in our youth ministry. To combat this, I send out a detailed weekly e-mail to families involved in our ministry. This e-mail outlines the week's events and reminds families of things like upcoming deadlines. I also use this time to write articles for our church's monthly newsletter. This helps keep our wider congregation informed about our youth ministry. Finally, I use this time to update our church's Facebook account.
- Follow-up: An important part of ministry is follow-up. Every week, I spend time responding to e-mails and phone calls from teens and their parents. I also spend time writing encouragement cards to teens that call out something positive I saw in them during the previous week.
- Finances: Although this is not the part of ministry I enjoy most, I know it's an important of ministry. Each week, I deposit funds I've received for things like retreat or trip payments. I also turn in my receipts to our church's accountant and reconcile them with my ministry's budget. This enables me to be a good steward of the resources I've been entrusted with.
- Advanced planning: On any given week, I'm also thinking about what's coming up in my youth ministry's calendar. Sometimes this means simply working a week ahead. Other times this means working on an event – like a retreat or trip – that requires more time and effort to successfully execute.
- Miscellaneous: As a church employee, inevitably, an average week also includes miscellaneous tasks. This might include attending a funeral, making a hospital visit, dealing with conflict, counseling a hurting family, writing a report for Church council (our board of elders), or even preparing to preach in big church.
One of the things that I love about being a youth pastor is that no two weeks look exactly the same. The nature of our job enables us to do a lot of very different things in any given week. That is, I think, what also makes our job hard for people to understand.
Regardless of which part of my job I'm currently working on, I know that all of it – even the behind-the-scenes work – is vital to ministry. And maybe that's what I most want people to know: Ultimately, every aspect of my job as a youth pastor is about helping teens grow in their relationship with Jesus.