What is a Youth Worker Supposed to be Doing, Anyway?

Faster than a piece of flying pizza! More powerful than a mob of over-sugared teenagers! Able to leap dodgeballs in a single bound! Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a youth worker doing something crazy!

What is a youth worker?

  • Are you a teacher, a party planner, a theologian, or a slapstick comedian?
  • Are you supposed to be doing weird and crazy events to bring in large crowds? Or should you be doing quieter, super deep events that cultivate “Monk-like” devotion to prayer?
  • Are you supposed to be a babysitter, a disciple maker, or some combination of the two?

Whether you are full-time, part-time, or the senior pastor tricked you into teaching a Sunday school – it is hard to know what is most important. There are endless possibilities and choices in youth ministry, so how do you know what to do?

Leviticus Scholar or Smelly-Shoe Connoisseur?

I know a youth worker who literally spent their entire time with youth reading the Bible, unpacking the meaning of Scripture, and praying.

I know another one whose claim-to-fame was smelling the inside of kids’ shoes and getting laughter as he described the gut-wrenching aromas. “This one makes me think of an armpit covered in sardines and set out to rot in the Sahara.”

Who is right?

The truth is, there are lots of ways to do successful youth ministry that look completely different. Youth ministry isn’t a formula or a certain methodology – it is about connecting our kids to Jesus. Both youth workers had ministries whose kids were getting to know Jesus better.

The Top 5 “Musts”

I do believe that there are some things all youth workers should be doing. These “Top 5 Musts” are essential and beyond formulas or programming.

1)      Pray
Your number one job as a youth worker is to pray. Pray for the kids, events, volunteers, leadership, safety, finances, strategy….everything! Pray for everything! We have the bold invitation to approach the Throne of the Grace. It is our number one job to go the King on behalf of our kids. This is not a “Sunday School” thing to say – it is not an afterthought or a side note…it is the most important thing you can do for your kids and ministry. By the way, this assumes that you are actively pursuing a relationship with God, which is essential for any kind of ministry leadership.

2)      Create Safety
Too often, safety is underrated in youth ministry. Why not strap on a helmet and see how far the football player can throw the junior higher? You, as a youth worker, have the responsibility of real human lives. You must do all that it takes to create an environment that is safe for your kids. I’m talking about safety from bullies, abusers, accidents – the whole gamut. In our ministry, if we don’t have enough volunteers show up to be safe, we cancel the night.  It is super sad to have to do this, so we have worked hard to create reliable volunteer teams – but ministry without safety is immeasurably wrong. 

3)      Listen Before You “Program”
I would say that the most important “activity” while engaging with young people is deep listening. This constant, active learning of who your kids are should influence the way you program your ministry. Jesus approached people based on who they were and what they were doing. Every single youth group is culturally different, and every single kid has different needs. You must really listen to your kids. Your strategies, lessons, events…anything – should come as a response to who your kids are. 

4)      Operate in Your Own Giftedness
There are certain functions of youth ministry that are unchangeable – somehow we have to show our kids God and help them navigate adolescence. However, based on what you can change, how can you tweak your time and operations to fit with the things you enjoy and do well? If you slant your time towards your giftedness, your ministry will be better. Not everyone can (or should) stick their nose in a junior-higher’s shoe.

5)      Get Others Involved
Getting others to help you in places where you aren’t gifted is important. No matter what, our solitary giftedness isn’t enough to lead a group of young people. We need help. We need other caring adults who will pour into the kids, who will help us balance out our own strengths and weaknesses. So many more kids have been “reached” by my volunteer teams (usually a group of 5-10) than by me (a group of 1!).


Bonus: The Ultimate Point of Being a Youth Worker

So what is a Youth Worker supposed be doing? The method is always flexible and the strategy can always change. The bottom line, though, is found in one of the most important verses for youth ministry: 

“…We will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done….
 so the next generation would know them…
Then they would put their trust in God
    and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.”
Psalm 78:4-7 (some omissions)

May we be youth workers who are about creating moments to show our kids the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. It is by telling His stories, showing His power, demonstrating His love – it is by these things that our kids will come to know Jesus and choose to follow Him. Next week, we will  ask the question:  If this is what we are supposed to be doing, how do we handle everyone else’s expectations?

What is one other “must” that YOU would add as key for a youth worker? Comment below!