Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Youth Pastor --- Who Is Your Mentor?

Jasper Speaks:

I have a great mentor. I have years of longevity alongside him. I have learned from his sermons how to speak to teens in a relevant way. I have learned how to design ministry from him. I have listened to him as he has warned of pitfalls and encouraged success. I credit much of the pastor I am today to his tutelage.

We have only met a couple of times.

My mentor is Doug Fields. He has been accused of being my "man crush" on more than one occasion. Through the years I have listened to Doug's preaching style and it has had a major impact on my own. I have known many youth pastors who have admired many theological giants and have created messages like theirs.  I have also seen the bored, unengaged faces of teens not ready to hear such theological pontificating. There is nothing wrong with going deep with students. I encourage it. However, I learned from Doug that going deep is best framed in relevance with a spice of humor and poignancy along the way. I know I am the communicator I am today because, without knowing I was doing anything special, I spent a lot of time listening to Doug's messages. His expert use of personal narrative built on passion for God's Word and teenagers eventually seeped into my sermon prep and never left. I am better for it.

I know I am old school but I read just about anything Doug wrote. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, solidly helped mold my philosophy of working with students. I was about 15 years into student ministry when I read the latter and I still recommend it to anyone starting at a new church. His book What Matters Most when NO is better than YES helped me prioritize life and ministry when I really needed that help. I've listened to podcasts and sat in on seminars soaking in all that I could.

In the truly formative moments of my ministry I was in New England. There were no other more experienced youth pastors to learn from in my community. Simply Youth Ministry became a lifeline. I learned so much from their resources. 

Doug has been a mentor to me. I have introduced myself a couple of times and even once got a shout out from him on a podcast (although he did make fun of my name). Other than that, he has no clue who I am but his influence on me cannot be ignored. 

I have had other pastors come alongside me and I have been richer for it. Having a mentor is important. Having one who understands and loves student ministry is essential. You may be in a place where there is no one around to physically walk alongside you in your ministry, I urge you to find a voice who is passionate about students and learn from him. Communication with students is not the same as communication with adults. Ministry with students is not the same as ministry with adults. I would encourage you to find godly youth pastors who you can study. Perhaps they will never know you. Perhaps your mentor will be like mine and you will only have brief encounters face to face. Don't do this alone. Learn from those who have gone before.

My prayer is that you would find a person nearby who could mentor you. You could learn the ropes from them. Even if you have been at this for awhile there is still so much you could learn. I would also pray that you would seek out "successful" youth ministry veterans and read what they write and listen to how they communicate. We all need mentors, even if they don't know who we are. 

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