Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry

(reviewed by Dave Totman)

Some books aren’t worth reading even one time, but others are worth reading over and over. In February 2005, just before I began my current post as the youth pastor at Sahel Academy, I picked up a copy of the book, Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields. I had already read another of his books, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and hoped this book would be as helpful and encouraging as the first.

Your first two years . . . was completely different than Purpose Driven and struck some chords in my heart that have continued to resound over the past half-decade. So, this spring, I decided to pick it up and go over it again as an evaluation tool of how the last six years of youth ministry have gone and to explore how I might be able to improve some areas of weakness.

Now, you may be saying, “Well, this is a pretty narrow subject; I’m not in youth ministry, so this book obviously isn’t for me.” Not so fast, I say – I have found several excellent principles within these pages that apply well beyond the walls of a youth room.

Three principles have struck a chord in my heart:

  1. “You can’t minister to everyone.” (p. 86) As someone who loves to help others and has lessons yet-to-be learned about boundaries and margin, this principle jumped off the pages (of the book) at me. Doug writes that you can’t (and shouldn’t) minister to everyone on your own (not even Jesus attempted this). I must learn my role and niche and look for others to play their roles as well. It is a great reminder that as believers, we are meant to live and serve in the body of Christ. I am only one part and I am meant to function as a part of many pieces working together. So, I need to be looking around me and identifying the team, their niches, and how we should all be working together to accomplish the overall task.
  2. “During conflict . . . be a leader.” (p. 129) Conflict is an interesting subject. For some it raises their stress level, others seem to create conflict to relieve stress. I can identify times in my life when I have avoided conflict and other times when I have sought to create it. Conflict isn’t always bad; in fact, many times it can be very helpful. Doug’s point in this portion of the book is to remind spiritual leaders that God has placed them in leadership to help navigate the conflict process and so we shouldn’t shy from it or avoid it, but rather be the leader that God wants. Doug goes on to chart a model of conflict resolution that is very helpful (p. 137). It was good for me to look over the conflict process and ask myself if I am responding to the conflicts in my life negatively or positively and to reflect on how I need to be a better leader through this process.
  3. “Why you want to develop student leaders.” (p. 196) I have believed for a long time that student leadership should be a priority in every youth ministry. That has been easier to believe than implement because the natural high turnover rate in youth ministry is only exacerbated when that youth ministry is dropped into the context of an international school and community. Doug’s encouragement, examples and advice on how to develop student leadership was very helpful. The bottom line for me is that as a follower of Christ, I want to push others around me into deeper relationships with Christ. The most effective way for me to do that (since I cannot minister to everyone . . . see point 1 above), is to reach out to leaders around me (including young and emerging leaders) and help them learn to minister to others.

All of this is obviously applicable in the context of a youth ministry. But it is equally applicable in many other contexts (sports teams, classrooms, boardrooms, etc.). Your First Two Years in Ministry is an incredibly helpful book in addressing many of the heart issues a youth minister deals with and I encourage anyone interested or already involved with youth ministry on any level to pick up a copy and give it at least one good read (maybe you’ll want to pick it up again years down the road, just as I have).

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