Mayo's Clinic

Jeanne shares 35 secrets for a youth pastor's longevity, success and spiritual health.
1. HE WHO SPENDS THE MOST TIME WINS. It's not humor, talent or money that produces eternal results. The greatest champions in youth ministry are the ones who stick it out the longest.

2. PREPARE TO BE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF AND TAKEN FOR GRANTED. The complaints, the ungratefulness, the moments of sheer disrespect will exponentially outnumber the gratitude. Good news: You play for an audience of One.

3. BE AUTHENTIC. Teens follow you because of your strengths, but they connect with you because of your weakness. Don't be afraid to let them see who you really are as you help them become who they were created to be.

4. RELATIONSHIPS RULE. Taking a kid out for a Coke or showing up at one of his or her ball games will produce more results than shouting theological truths at them from the pulpit.

5. NEVER RESIGN ON THURSDAY. Don't make major, life-altering decisions when you are emotionally drained (such as right after a disappointing midweek service).

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6. LEARN FOR LIFE. Many youth pastors claim to have been in youth ministry for 10 years, but they've really only ministered one year repeatedly for a decade. Take time to feed yourself--intellectually, spiritually and physically.

7. KEEP YOUR TEMPER; NOBODY WANTS IT. Few things undermine your credibility with your staff and teens more than an inability to bite your tongue and turn your barbs into more constructive criticism once you've had a chance to cool down.

8. BUILD GUARDRAILS, NOT AMBULANCES. Accountability matters. If you do not take the time to build a fence of people around yourself, when you reach the top of "youth ministry mountain" you will wind up calling the ambulance for yourself at the bottom.

9. ONE WILL NEVER MULTIPLY. Your success as a leader is directly--and exponentially--related to your willingness to reproduce leaders who share a vision, values and passion for what you do.

10. EVICT RESENTMENT. Face it: If you're a true leader, there will be many who will not share your convictions or value your commitment. Resentment and bitterness, however, are two emotional houseguests you must kick to the curb.

11. CREATE A SPIRITUAL HIT LIST. Dare to make a list of the kids nobody wants. Then, let the Holy Spirit use you to turn the toughest, most incorrigible teen into tomorrow's kamikaze Christian.

12. ENTER THEIR WORLD. Don't let it be said that you didn't have the guts to immerse yourself fully in the school frustrations, romantic troubles and existential angst that are the flesh and blood of teenage life.

13. YOU TEACH WHAT YOU KNOW; YOU REPRODUCE WHO YOU ARE. Your ability to leave a legacy in ministry is not limited by your knowledge but by your character.

14. DON'T REACT; RESPOND. When crisis hits, you will always have more time than you think to make a prayerful, deliberate decision.

15. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS "OVERNIGHT SUCCESS." The sweetest victories, the most rewarding moments will often come after the most agonizing struggles and the most disappointing failures.

16. THE CALL IS HIGHER THAN THE FALL. The likelihood is high that you will fail miserably at least once. The likelihood is higher that God will call you to get up and try again.

17. EMBRACE DELAYED GRATIFICATION. Significant ministries are only birthed out of unadulterated, righteous obsession combined with persistent, disciplined character.

18. EARN THE RIGHT TO SPEAK. Youth leaders will only know if a problem is occurring in the lives of their teenagers if they involve themselves enough to earn the right to communicate in that realm.

19. YOU CANNOT SOLVE A PROBLEM THAT YOU IGNORE. Sex and dating pervade the lives of teenagers too much for you to act like they don't exist. Listen, counsel, correct and forgive--the consequences of not doing so are too great.

20. BE A CONNECTOR, NOT A CLIMBER. Your desire to build bridges should supercede your goal to climb ladders. Success is fleeting; relationships are eternal.

21. DIE WELL. Few are willing to devote their lives to something worth dying for. God uses those most greatly who allow themselves to be expendable for His purposes.

22. INVEST BELOW THE WATER LINE. The characteristics you possess that determine your success in ministry are those least visible to others, but most important to God.

23. BE A THERMOSTAT, NOT A THERMOMETER. As a leader, your attitude will determine the attitudes of those who surround you.

24. DON'T FIX IT UNTIL YOU FEEL IT. Resist the urge to rush in and solve the problems of youth until you have fully listened and felt the pain of the one who hurts.

25. YOUR EXIT DETERMINES YOUR ENTRANCE. Never allow pride, money or ego to answer the question, "Should I leave this ministry?" The reason for your departure will become the foundation of your future ministry--so let that reason be the unmistakable guidance of the Holy Spirit.

26. IF YOU'RE NOT CLOSE ENOUGH TO BE HURT, YOU'RE NOT CLOSE ENOUGH TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. True youth ministry begins with giving yourself away to students and taking the risk of disappointment and hurt. But the dividends far outweigh the disappointments.

27. WHATEVER YOU PRAISE GETS REPEATED. Make positive appreciation and encouragement the DNA of your ministry. Catch students doing something right and then throw a party for them with your authentic affirmations.

28. RELENTLESSLY PRIORITIZE YOUTH MINISTRY'S "THREE-LEGGED-STOOL." Work your guts out, pray your guts out, and love their guts out. Shorten or eliminate any of those three "legs" and you're headed for trouble.

29. EMBRACE LONELINESS AS GOD'S CRY FOR TIME WITH YOU. Cultivate friendship with your leaders and other surrounding youth leaders. But all spiritual champions learned to embrace periods of loneliness. Use it to push you closer to true intimacy with Him.

30. BE A VOICE, NOT AN ECHO. Have the guts to do more than merely reflect what everyone else in society, the church world and even youth ministry are saying. Be a voice to this culture with biblical standards and values.

31. KEEP ALL FIVE OF YOUR "MINISTRY TANKS" FULL. Long-haul youth ministry involves so much more than just keeping your "spiritual tank" full. There are five tanks that every youth leader needs to be aware of in his own life, or he will eventually start to feel very empty. Those "tanks" include your "relational tank," "intellectual tank," "physical tank" and, of course, your "spiritual tank."

32. SHOW ME YOUR FRIENDS, AND I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR FUTURE. Guard your "inner circle." You will soon begin to mirror their attitudes and values.

33. IF YOU COMPARE AND COMPETE, YOU'LL LIVE IN DEFEAT. Mind games probably take more people out of youth ministry than anything else. Refuse to mentally rehearse thoughts of inferiority, failure and inadequacy in your mind. You have been sent by God to "your kids." Now act like it!

34. CHARISMA WILL GET YOU IN THE DOOR BUT CHARACTER WILL KEEP YOU THERE. Your verbal skills and personality gifts probably helped to get you into youth ministry. But remember that only your internal integrity and discipline will give you fruit for the long haul.

35. GIVE AWAY TO OTHERS WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED BUT NEVER HAD. As a teenager growing up, I longed for an active, sharp youth group, friends who were truly committed to Christ and yet really fun to be around. That secret desire became the launching point for my 35 years in youth ministry.

A 35-year veteran of youth ministry, Jeanne Mayo is youth pastor at the Assembly of God Tabernacle in Decatur, Georgia. She is the author of Thriving Youth Groups: Secrets for Growing Your Ministry (Group).

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