"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Personal Life of the Youth Worker

Managing Yourself (Part 1)

Mark Tittley

Youth workers must develop their ability to manage themselves if they are going to make it in youth ministry. This will involve paying attention to the following areas of their lives: pursuing spiritual growth; building godly character; developing personal vision; and gaining self-understanding.


Joe, a youth pastor, at Grace Church decided that he would build the best youth ministry that anyone had every seen. He determined that it would be the biggest, most talked-about youth ministry that had ever been planted and grown in that area - in fact maybe even in the whole world. He was willing to spare no effort in the attainment of this goal. As he started to get the youth ministry up and running he chose the best venue for the group to meet in at the church, he had the room painted out with bright colors and placed attractive posters on the wall that youth would love. He arranged for the best catering facilities to ensure that the young people would be well served. He gathered the best program activities for the first few evenings - confident that his programs would be an instant hit with the young people. He launched the first program and the response was excellent. All his hopes had been realized - when people told him how great the event was as they left the venue, he knew that he had a good thing going. Soon, he reasoned his would have the grandest youth group in the city. But suddenly the wheels started to come off. He found that he was battling to handle all the demands placed on his shoulders and was starting to feel irritable and drained. When people came and asked for advice and direction in growing spiritually he found that he had little to offer them. After all he was hardly going anywhere spiritually himself - how could he, he was running this great youth ministry! He had been so busy taking care of all the arrangements and programming details that he had failed to take care of his relationship with the Lord. He realized that it was some time since he had time in his day to spend time with the Lord. He was so busy following up new contacts and gathering even better programs that he had forgotten to do the things that, although they are not seen or applauded by people, would ensure he would stay connected to the Lord and go the distance in youth ministry. If only he had taken the time to build into the unseen parts of his life - his relationship with the Lord - maybe he would not have resigned only six months into what was supposed to be the greatest success story in youth ministry that his town had ever see.

Any strategy for ministry or model of ministry will depend to a large extent on the spiritual state of the leaders. In order to minister effectively among youth, a youth pastor needs to keep growing spiritually. This is done through:

A. Having Daily Devotions

There must be some time set aside EVERY day to meet with the Lord - to read God's Word; to reflect on how it applies to one's life; to journal thoughts, impressions or resolutions; and to pray. Youth workers cannot hope to lead people into a deepening relationship with Christ if they neglect the basics of an intimate relationship with Him.

B. Practicing God's Presence

While a regular daily devotional time is essential, it does not replace the need to commune with God throughout the day. The discipline of continually turning to God in one's mind and heart is crucial to sustaining a vital and growing relationship. Clement of Alexandria said: "All of our life is a festival, being persuaded that God is everywhere present on all sides, we praise Him as we till the ground, we sing hymns as we till the ground, we sing hymns as we sow the seed, we feel His inspiration in all we do." What a challenge to integrate our relationship with God into even the most mundane of earthly activities. Reading the Christian classic by Brother Lawrence, entitled The Practice of the Presence of God, will help in the development of this discipline.

C. Taking Spiritual Retreats

While daily devotions and practicing God's presence are crucial for maintaining intimacy with God they do not replace the need for regular extended times alone with God. A weekly time away should be built into the schedule - a time where there is silence, soul-searching, prayer and reading.

D. Dealing with Sin

Nothing will hinder a relationship with God quicker than sin that is allowed to take root. Youth workers must make it their aim to keep short accounts of sin. A regular discipline of confession is needed to ensure that nothing blocks communication of God. Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, suggests that confession involves (a) an examination of conscience; (b) sorrow at having committed sin; and (c) a determination to avoid sin.

E. Creating Space for God

The previous four steps will never happen unless youth workers make space for relating to God. It has been said: "If the devil can't make you bad he will make you busy." Even being busy doing "the Lord's work" can be a hindrance to intimacy with God.

F. Developing Spiritual Friendships

A sure way to success in the spiritual life is to find a few spiritual friends who will keep one accountable and motivated in the area of spirituality. Gordon MacDonald says:

"Never before have I been more convinced that adult Christian need to form personal friendships with those who share our commitments and values. Just like a pit crew we are called to help one another win, inspect one another's tires for wear and tear and check fuel level for running low!"

Henri Nouwen added: "I now realize that I need regular contact with a friend who keeps me close to Jesus and continues to call me to faithfulness." The need for mentors is at the heart of Christian leadership.

G. Doing Practical Service

Finally there is a need to express ones' spirituality in acts of service, as Charles Ringma says: "Spirituality is not simply an inward disposition. It is not only a peaceful state of mind. Spirituality must come to expression in acts of kindness, deeds of love and thankful service."

A wise youth pastor set out to build a youth ministry. Before he started to gather program resources or choose the best venue, he spoke to other youth pastors who had been in ministry for many years. He asked them about the kinds of activities that he needed to engage in to ensure that he would stay close to the Lord while building a ministry that would lead other to Christ and into a ever-deepening relationship with Him. For weeks he sought advice. Then he went to the Lord in prayer and through extended times of spiritual retreat he sough God for guidance; he laid his motives before the Lord and prayed that God would purify them - his prayer was: "Not to me, but to your name be glory". Eventually, convinced that he was operating correctly he began to set about building the kind of structures that would make for a successful youth ministry. He recruited people who would share the burden of leadership; he encouraged people in the church to pray for the ministry; he made a note of people who would be able to help in times of crisis; and above all he determined that nothing would interfere with his own personal relationship with the Lord. Very soon, the ministries were growing and goals were being reached. It took a bit longer to get things going, but there was a sense that he would be around for many years to come.

(The two stories are adapted from The Life God Blesses by Gordon MacDonald, Nelson, 1994)


The first chapter in Doug Field's book, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, is entitled: "Healthy Youth Ministries Have Healthy Leaders". He encourages youth pastors to move beyond hype to health. We can spend so much time working for God that we neglect the need to allow God to work through us; and work on becoming a person of God. As we increase our ability to depend on God we will move towards becoming more of the person that God wants us to become. After all, God is actually more concerned about what I am becoming that what I do for the kingdom! We may be able to fool people into thinking that our inner world is right before God, but we won't fool God. Proverbs 5:21-23 says: "For a man's ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly."

How can we develop godly character?

A. Depend on God for Growth

Youth pastors must prayerfully depend on God to work within them to transform them into the image of Jesus Christ. God who has begun the work of salvation within us, through the work of regeneration, is more than capable of being trusted to make us more like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. We must constantly bring our true selves before God in confession and supplication, asking that he will cleanse us from all that is not of Him and work within us that which is of Him.

B. Cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit

While spiritual growth is a natural outworking of the indwelling Spirit within us, we are still called to "put on Christ" ? to discipline ourselves for godliness. One way to do this is to allow the Holy Spirit to act within us; to foster his life within us. The outcome of Christ living within us through the spirit is fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). There must be direct and personal interaction with Christ by the Spirit if His fruit is to be seen in us.

C. Practice Spiritual Disciplines

A further way to develop godly character is though engaging in specific activities that will put us in a position where God is able to work within us. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, says that practicing the disciplines places us in a position where God's grace is able to work in us. They are not works of the flesh, but a bringing of ourselves before God and being before him long enough so that he can transform us. The disciplines include activities like solitude, study, prayer, fasting, service and worship.

D. Develop a Value System

The following values should be included in our value system:

(1) Personal Mastery ? we must strive to be the best that we can be.

(2) Practical Excellence ? setting high standards for everything we do.

(3) Selfless Serving ? ministering with a servant heart.

(4) Genuine Friendliness ? we must strive to continually reach deep within ourselves to be friendly to people.

(5) Ethical Integrity ? everything we do should be done with honesty and truthfulness.

(6) Balanced Living ? we must balance the private and public dimensions of our lives, for example, balancing work, family and personal time.

E. Behave Christianly

Our character should be expressed in our behavior. This may involve seeking to like a What Would Jesus Do lifestyle. It will involve a desire to live in a way that has a positive impact on those around us. Phil Geldart (In Your Hands, page 409f) says that individuals prefer to follow someone who has leadership qualities. He presents a number of 'charisma' items for leaders to internalize and practice:

(1) Smile Frequently ? a friendly demeanor projects a sense of self confidence and makes others feel positive about the environment in which they find themselves.

(2) Be Decisive ? decide what you are going to do and do it so that people feel confident that action is being taken.

(3) Be Knowledgeable ? if you are well prepared you will be able to make decisions decisively and wisely.

(4) Listen Attentively ? people appreciate being heard and will be more free to share their ideas, opinions and perspectives in this environment.

(5) Be Prepared ? come to meetings well prepared with ideas, alternatives and innovative solutions.

(6) Speak Clearly and with Conviction ? if we speak well and do so with conviction, we will impact people.

(7) Encourage Others ? we must spot something of value in what others are doing and comment on it at the appropriate moment.

(8) Create a Fun Environment ? people work best in a fun and creative environment.

(9) Speak the Truth ? people appreciate it when we speak the complete truth tactfully.

(10) Be Enthusiastic ? we must be positive, outgoing and excited about the things we are involved in!

Richard Foster, in a Christianity Today article, 5th February 1996, speaks about us Becoming Like Christ through three means:

(1) Formed by Experiential Means ? if Christ is to be formed in us (Galatians 4:19), we must realize that God works through ordinary experiences of daily life to form the character of Christ in us. This happens through our work which should be viewed as sacred; through trials that produce endurance and through the movings of the Spirit within our hearts as he inspires, convicts, counsels and guides us.

(2) Conformed by Formal Means ? if we are to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), we need to engage in the disciplines of the spiritual life ? these are formal ways of training in the spiritual life.

(3) Transformed by Instrumental Means ? if we are to be transformed into the image of the son (2 Corinthians 3:18), we must connect with the many physical and human instruments that God uses to transform us, including: baptism, preaching, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, intercessory prayer, reading and applying scripture, the Lord's supper, etc.

(In part 2 of this article, professor Tittley helps us develop personal vision and gain self-understanding.)


Mark Tittley is lecturer in youth ministry at BTC Southern Africa http://www.btc.co.za/youth/index.htm

For a full profile of Mark, see http://www.youth.co.za/model/mark.htm

To see other fine articles professor Tittley has written, go to his website at http://www.youth.co.za/model/index.htm

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