Real Life Youth Ministry: Giving Your Students A Voice

Our Real Life Youth Ministry series continues today! Each week we are sharing the story of someone doing Youth Ministry somewhere around the world. We all need encouragement in ministry at times. And sharing stories is one way we can encourage others on their journey. The Devil loves to bring discouragement, confusion, and make us feel like we’re not doing a good job or just aren’t good enough to be used by God. But the Bible says,

“And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.” –Revelation 12:11

That’s why it’s so important to share our stories! This week we get to hear from Pamela in Houston (USA), who is voluntarily leading the Youth Ministry at her church. She has an amazing testimony of creating unity in a group of teenagers that was divided and angry. I love how real she is about that challenge and I know you will too. Welcome, Pamela!

Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in Youth Ministry.

I’ve taught Sunday school to one group or another since I was 16. After finishing grad school, I found I had priced myself out of my job market (education). However, I was eager to get back to working with teens. The church we were attending was looking for a volunteer with experience to run their youth program.

This week's story gives insight into empowering your students and giving them a voice. Pamela shares how she brought unity to a group of divided and angry teenagers. Tansquared Youth Ministry

What does a typical Youth night look like for you?

Our church has fewer than 100 people during Sunday worship including the children and babies in the nursery. The youth meet before the church service because many of our members drive a long ways to get to this church. Extra trips to church is very taxing on our parents.

What is something your ministry does well and how did that come about?

I have a good relationship with the youth in our church. I think having the same person leading the group every week builds up a lot of trust. If I know I’m going to miss a Sunday, I let the group know and I let them know who will lead the lesson instead. They know I’m coming back.

Do you have any funny stories to share?

I always start our meetings with Thumbs Up-Thumbs Down–what is the best and worst thing that has happened in your life since we last saw you. One high schooler went into exquisite detail about the food poisoning he got while on a flight. The flight had to make an emergency landing so he could get to a hospital. He said with great annoyance, “Dad should know better than buying sushi at Krogers!” I later found out that this young man had asked for that sushi at Krogers.

What was your biggest challenge initially, and how did you overcome it?

This is not at the church where I now serve, but I took over a youth group that had disrupted church services for a long time. I was tired of their behavior so I volunteered to take lead with the youth. They had been using the youth room as a make out room and some students didn’t even want to come into the room because of the nasty behavior and foul language. I was able to convince the reluctant youth to enter the youth room because I said that the first meeting was going to be about how we treated each other and if they wanted a different youth group, I needed them to come into the meeting and vote with us.

I started out by asking the group why they were angry. Boy, I got an earful. I don’t think most of the adults were aware of how poorly planned youth meetings had been run and how many leaders had quit on them without notice.

I promised that I would be present and prepared for every meeting and would give them advanced notice if I knew I would miss a meeting. I put a classroom over-sized calendar in the room and listed all events and any Sunday I knew I wouldn’t be present. I had two men who volunteered to work with me and that together we could promise to have planned programming each week.

Then we talked about the behavior that had taken place in the youth room. We passed out a small clump of Post-It’s to each youth member and asked them to write what they did and did not want happening in the youth room. Once they were done writing as well as the 3 adults, I collected the Post It’s and started posting on the wall by category. I did this in front of the youth so they could see that this was an honest discussion. There were several areas of agreement and a few areas of disagreement. So we asked if they would accept the areas of agreement as a binding rule and the youth easily agreed. Then we started tackling the areas where the youth disagreed with each other.

The disagreements that could not come into any kind of agreement were discussed as pros and cons of each dilemma and then we put it to a vote. The youth who wanted improved behavior outnumbered the youth who wanted to continue using foul language and PDA’s, which they termed “crawling all over each other”.

The next week we brought in a youth group constitution and everyone signed it. As the youth saw that their needs were attended to every week trust started building and disruptions stopped. Within two years, there were youths who donated to the annual pledge drive and who became voting members of the congregation. Most of the youth served on one or more committees including the first group below the board. It was an amazing turn around brought about by being respectful of each other.

What keeps you going when you’re feeling frustrated, worn down, or just want a night off?

I love the youth. Each of them.

Any words of advice you’d give to others starting out in Youth Ministry?

Be patient and don’t worry about taking the lead of the group from the start. Usually youths will cooperate with what they see as a fair agreement for behavior standards as long as the adults live up to their part of the agreements.

Pamela, Houston (USA)

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