Vocational ministry is weird. Vocational ministry in next-gen is extra weird.
It’s weird when . . .
Your shopping list often includes pool noodles or goldfish
Going to students’ sporting events or band concerts is part of your job
You may be free at 2:00 PM on a Tuesday but can’t go on a random weekend trip with your friends.
All of the oddities and complexities of your jobs are worth it because we get to influence the faith of the next generation.
But life can feel extra weird if you are a next-gen leader AND a young adult. That’s because being a young adult is weird.
Being in your early to mid-twenties is like being in your toddler years again. Everything is new, and it can be difficult to find your footing.
You simultaneously . . .
Want to scream to the world, “I CAN DO IT.”
AND call your mom because you feel like you definitely can’t do it.
(Especially when you are filling out a form or making a doctor’s appointment)
Are told by everyone that young adults are know-it-alls
And most days, you feel like you know nothing.
You often feel uncomfortable being THE adult in the room
AND feel frustrated when people don’t treat you like an adult.
(At least these things were true for me.)
And, the weirdness of being in ministry and being a young adult can make you feel, at worst, alone and, at best, just slightly disoriented.
So, what are some things you can do to make both leading a ministry and leading yourself easier?
Truthfully, I (Lauren) am no expert at being a ministry leader or even at being an adult. At the same time, even though I still volunteer in next-gen ministry, it is no longer my career. However, these few practices are things I either did while I was in vocational ministry that were helpful or things I wish I did that could have made me a more effective leader.
- Find a mentor (or multiple).
Chances are, this is not unfamiliar advice, and you don’t need to be convinced of the importance of mentorship. After all, you spend most of your time recruiting and training volunteers so kids and teenagers can be connected to caring adults. But, when it is time to find your own mentor, it can feel overwhelming. Finding multiple mentors may feel even more daunting. However, having multiple mentors can be helpful because they can serve different purposes.
- Personal Mentor: Someone who can help you grow in your personal life and share wisdom.
- Ministry Mentor: Someone with experience leading a ministry who can help you grow in your leadership. It helps if this person is not connected to your church.
- Ministry Mentor (within your church): Someone who can help you grow in leadership and understands your church dynamics and context. (This could also just be your boss.)
Now, no matter what, you need personal and ministry mentors, preferably both inside and outside your church. There are some dynamics you will navigate as a ministry leader that will require special knowledge and understanding of the people involved. That’s when a ministry mentor within your church can be helpful. This person may just be your boss, but it could also be another leader in your church who can guide you. Other times, you may need an objective perspective, a safe place to share struggles or to simply get advice on a situation. To protect the health of your ministry and your church, the person you share that information with needs to be an outsider.
The good news is that if you are an Orange Curriculum partner, you get a ministry mentor with your subscription. Your Orange Specialist can help you not only innovate your ministry and make the most of your curriculum, but they are also amazing at being a listening ear and sounding board for new ideas.
- Find a community.
The kids or students in your ministry can’t be your community. Actually, they definitely shouldn’t be. Truthfully, while volunteers and parents can be a part of your community, it is imperative that you have a community outside of people engaged in your ministry. Again, this can help you maintain healthy boundaries and protect your ministry culture.
You need people who can help you grow in your faith, encourage you, and invest in your personal life. You need safe people you can be honest with about your doubts, questions, and struggles. If those people are a part of your ministry, it will be more challenging to show up authentically.
One of the ways you can build community and meet people who understand what it’s like to be a ministry leader is to join communities and attend events for ministry leaders. Selfishly, we think you should check out our Facebook groups and come to Orange Tour and Orange Conference. But, to be fair, that’s because we believe the leaders who attend these events and are a part of these groups are some of the best leaders and people to have in your corner and community.
- Build healthy habits.
Yes, this can mean eating nutritious food and exercising, but it also means building good habits related to mental health, finances, work-life balance, and spiritual growth. Building healthy habits now will be easier than undoing bad habits later. You will probably only get busier as you get older, so your future self will thank you for starting now.
Now, you may be asking the question,
“With what time and energy will I create those habits?”
If that’s you, the best thing you can do is to start creating boundaries. Creating work-life boundaries can be more difficult as a young adult, especially if you are single or not a parent. Your calendar isn’t as full, and you don’t have other people to check in with. Create boundaries anyway. If you want to be in ministry for the long haul, you need to create systems to help you avoid burnout. However, whether you stay in vocational ministry or not, you are worthy of rest and personal growth. So, invest in yourself and create habits now that will serve you well later.
- Use a curriculum.
Okay, that may seem self-serving, considering we create ministry curriculum. But, even if you don’t use Orange, you should spend time editing a curriculum instead of creating messages from scratch every week. Not only will this save you time so you can focus on engaging parents and training volunteers, but it will also help you be more strategic about what you teach.
Plus, here’s a secret for ministry leaders under 25 years old: your brain is not fully developed. That isn’t an insult. It’s just important to know that your pre-frontal cortex is still growing. Here’s what that means: you have the gift of being extra passionate and excited about what you are learning in your spiritual walk. When you learn something new in Scripture, you may want your kids or teenagers to understand it too. The truth is, that lesson or idea may not be relevant for the everyday faith of kids or teenagers, and even if it is, it may not be something they can developmentally understand. So, it’s important to prioritize teaching what will be helpful for your kids and teenagers, not just what is most exciting for you.
- Ask questions.
It’s possible you rolled your eyes when you read that. After all, you may need to ask questions to do everything in the first few months (or even years) of a new career or role. You are learning new software, systems, policies, and ministry practices that may require you to ask questions constantly. That’s okay. Keep asking questions anyway.
Ask your leadership, volunteers, coworkers, parents in the community, and even the kids and teenagers questions so you can lead your ministry well.
Ask questions like,
“How can I help you win?”
“What blindspots do I have?”
“What do you wish you knew at my age?”
When you ask better questions instead of trying to act like you have all of the answers, you will lead your ministry well and build better relationships with your leadership and the people in your community.
Being a ministry leader is weird. Being a young adult ministry leader can be weirder. But investing in not only the next generation but also yourself is an investment in the future. And you are worth the investment.