You’ve done it. Sunday morning, you’re late. You’re rushing to get out to the door and get to church. In your haste, you cut yourself shaving. If you’re a man, you’ve cut your face. Women, you’ve cut your legs (or maybe your face…I mean, I don’t know your grooming routine).

I spent several years in Bible college studying leadership and ministry. Countless hours in classrooms learning theology and hermeneutics and Greek and all kinds of other “essential” bits of info. But you know what? Nobody ever told me it’s wise to shave right before bed on Saturday night to avoid fresh scars on Sunday mornings.

The longer I spend in ministry, the more I find out that this isn’t the only thing I didn’t learn about ministry in college. Here are five big ones I learned early on in my ministry career:

  1. You can’t win a battle with a parent. It doesn’t matter what it’s about…if you’re wrong, you lose. If you’re right, you lose. Why? Because fighting with a parent doesn’t do anyone any good. But you know what? They also never told me that there are some simple things you can do to come darn near close to never even having a battle with a parent. Clear communication, going the extra mile to ensure safety and timeliness, praying for the parents (and letting them know you’re praying for them), supporting their families in visible and tangible ways, and most importantly learning to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness are just a few ideas. You can’t win a battle with a parent, but if you do things right, you’ll rarely find yourself in one to begin with. (Tweet this)
  2. Budget and cash flow are two very different things. I learned early on in my classes how to create a budget. Even though we were encouraged to create a realistic budget for our educational purposes, I wasn’t prepared for the reality that budget and cash flow mean two different things. I’ve always been blessed to work in churches where we’ve had GREAT budgets for my departments. But I’ve been forced to learn how to think outside-the-box about how to do things as inexpensively as possible. Whether it’s fundraising, planning inexpensive events, or pooling resources with other churches, there are lots of ways to be cost-effective. It’s an important lesson to learn early on that just because your budget says you have the money doesn’t mean you have the money. Be creative.
  3. Whether you know it or not, “that kid” is in your youth group. You know the one. The kid that you talk about as if they’re not in the room. It might be the kid who is experimenting with drugs, or who’s getting drunk at parties on the weekend, or who is cutting. It might be the kid who was/is molested or abused. It might be the kid who is pushing the boundaries of purity with a boyfriend or girlfriend. It sounds silly, but for a long time, anytime I talked to my students about these kinds of issues, it was like this: “You guys probably know someone who is struggling with….” This was incredibly stupid of me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had ALL of those kids in my youth group. What really blew my mind is that I had middle schoolers who fit most of those descriptions. I just ignored that possibility and operated as if my kids had it all together. You might be reading this thinking, “Yeah, that was really naive of you.” Odds are good you have a better grasp on this than I did. But let me caution you: if you think you don’t have “that kid” in your group, you’re in one of two situations. Either you’re alone in the room, or you do and you just don’t know it yet.
  4. You can’t possibly do it alone. The single most important thing I’ve learned to do (and I’m still learning to do well) is build a team. Your ministry can’t win if you’re trying to do it all. You don’t have the time, energy, resources, creativity, or even willpower to succeed without people around you to help you carry the load. A team of volunteers who are passionate, united around a vision, committed to a process, and willing to get down in the dirt with students will keep you from losing your mind. The average tenure of a youth ministry professional is 12–18 months. Far too many of those ministry casualties are a result of people trying to do it themselves. It’s hard to give up control, but there’s power in delegation. It’s hard to put something we are responsible for or passionate about in the hands of someone else, but there’s value in trusting people and empowering them to win. Their win is your win (and sometimes, even when they lose, you win…I’ll blog about this next week). Your reach with students and families will widen and deepen. I can’t even put into words the benefit of team. No matter how good you are at planning, teaching, relating, or anything else, you need a team. (Tweet This)
  5. Just give them Jesus. They don’t need to know what that Greek word means. They don’t need you to blow their minds with some new, undiscovered truth every time you get together. They don’t need all kinds of videos and media and games. They don’t need a fancy program. They don’t even need a simple one. This list could go on. And you know what? Those aren’t bad things at all; they’re all helpful at times. But the truth is, if we just teach Jesus boldly and confidently, we’re going to win. Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” For too long, I wore the pressure of feeling like I had to be the one to make the message connect or take root. I believed that if I didn’t do it right, I would fail. Only recently have I started to understand that no matter what I do or try, I can’t make change happen anyway. I just have to preach Jesus and let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting. There is such freedom and release in that realization. Don’t succomb to that belief. Just teach Jesus, pure, simple and unfiltered, and He will make the seed take root.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned and am continuing to learn. There will be many more. What have you learned about youth ministry that your education didn’t prepare you for? Share your wisdom with the rest of us. What would you add to this list?

New to student ministry? Looking for more? Check out a post I wrote recently about starting a student ministry from scratch. Or check out a list of student ministry products and resources I use and recommend.