It didn’t take me very long to realize that I needed to adjust my style of youth ministry in my thirties. I was no longer the young buck but I also wasn’t an old goat. My passion for seeing students come to know Christ never waned, but I was begin to voyage into the awkward middle – the space between rookie and well established veteran.

Here are four commitments that I had to make in my thirties to survive the youth ministry journey.

#1: Accept that I am actually 30

I had to accept for myself that I was now in my thirties.  Too simplistic?  Don’t be fooled, this one is not as easy as it sounds.  Honestly, I wasn’t that fond of the experiences of my twenties to begin with – moving a lot, a few job changes, inexperienced in just about everything, and short on money.  At the same time, I wasn’t on a race to get to my thirties either.  Yet a mature youth worker comes to this crossroads and begins to accept the fact that they have to begin dressing their age, acting their age, and working with a multiple generations to accomplish the work of youth ministry.

#2: Don’t Repeat Rookie Mistakes

I know many 20-something youth workers who were never able to submit to authority and were fired because no one saw things their way.  I know others who were “anti-everything” but weren’t “for” anything.  There are 20-somethings who made a bright flash with students but fizzled and broke apart personally.  Still there were others who saw parents as the enemy and lost on all fronts.  If you are still in youth ministry by your 30th birthday, you made some rookie mistakes.  Here’s the real question: Do you know what those mistakes were and are you leading differently today because of them?

#3: Find a new way of spending time with students. 

Many people entered youth ministry as a fresh faced college graduate, single, maybe newly married.  By the time you are thirty, you might have added a pack of children to the mix, a thinning hairline, and a mortgage.  Life is much different in your thirties (even if you are single).  Shouldn’t ministry with students look different too?  In my third decade of life, I am spending a lot more time in living rooms and restaurants with students than campus lunches and football games.  I am taking more time to counsel students and families than late night burger runs.  To my surprise, I think I’m enjoying ministry more in this new mode!

#4: Identify “young eagles” and help them fly

You are no longer the youngest person in youth ministry, so utilize your influence to help others get started and stay committed.  I love helping college students with a heart for ministry find church, parachurch, or camp jobs.  I love helping them navigate their first few months in a church and the first wave of disorienting conflict.  I love speaking truth and wisdom into them and sharing their journey.  Seek out young eagles!  You won’t regret it!

If you spent your twenties in youth ministry, the new dynamics of ministry in your thirties have the potential to derail you but they don’t have to.  I pray that the space between rookie and seasoned veteran could be your strongest, God-anointed, kingdom-building, soul-enriching decade of your life!

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