How would you like to be a youth minister, a job that, if you stand still and be quiet for more than three seconds, you’ve lost your constituency’s attention; where all parties want you to be perfect and each has a different vision of what “perfect” is?
No wonder churches have a hard time finding a youth director.
But youth directors list other things as the hardest part of the job.
“My personal struggle is communication with parents,” as well as garnering parental support, Lauren Taylor, director of Student Ministries at First UMC, Isle of Palms. Trying to get them “not to just walk away once their children move into youth programs. They say today’s communication is quicker and faster, but the right kind of communications is not happening.”
For Ed Stallworth, director of Youth Ministries at Simpsonville UMC, the hardest part of the job is “walking a line between parents and youth. You want to be supportive of parents; parents need to recognize ultimately they’re the youth ministers. Sometimes parents struggle with their children.” Stallworth said, “Fortunately, the parents at Simpsonville UMC are wonderful.”
For Jason Barrs, director of Music and Youth Ministries at Platt Spring UMC, Columbia, “It’s the time thing” that’s hardest. “You have to devote a lot of time to the youth; not only being in the office, but going to their soccer games, cheerleading matches and recitals. It’s not just a job here at the church.” It’s being where the youth are, even if you have a family and two young boys as Barrs does.
Brandon Taylor, director of Youth Ministries at First UMC in Myrtle Beach, echos the time issue. “For me, the hardest part is trying to find time for myself, my own spiritual growth and nourishment; remembering that I have a life, too, that I have family and friends.
“It takes a very special person to work with the youth. I find myself devoting everything I have to this job – being therapist, parents, pastor… . You have to be prepared and be someone who is flexible and will work a lot of weird hours,” Brandon Taylor said.
Lauren Taylor agrees, the work is relational. “If you’re not in the kids’ lives, in their sporting events, recitals,” it’s not working. “My type of ministry is being right there being with them.”
What is the best part?
“The kids!” said Stallworth. On a mission trip, seeing them discover their abilities is great, he said. “It’s really a fun job.”
“Whenever I see the youth stepping up to be leaders, saying, ‘Hey, I want to lead the Bible Study this Wednesday night,’ it feels as if I’m doing something right and I’m getting a blessing” Barrs said. “For them even to show up, to want to be there, to see the fruits that are growing, that’s very rewarding for me.” Another of his rewards was having a graduating youth hear a call to ministry.
“When I have a moment with a youth, when they tell me God has been working in their lives, or how God hasn’t but they’re trusting me enough to talk to me about it,” that is a rich time for Lauren Taylor. Being able to share in their youthful years is special, she said. She spends half her time on youth and half on children’s ministries.
“There are a number of ‘best parts,’” to the job, said Brandon Taylor. “My favorite moment is getting to see the wheels start turning. Once you build those relationships and they are realizing what it means to be a young Christian, they finally get what we’re trying to share with them, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Another “best part” is his relationship with a predominately white church. “It took a little getting used to,” the African-American said. The result? “Phenomenal.”
Who led you to become a youth director?
With a father, grandfathers and, now, uncles in the ministry, “I fought being in ministries for some time after college,” Lauren Taylor said. She studied Spanish and international business, and, after graduation, worked in Austin, Texas, until she had a significant calling at about 24 or 25. The foundation was from my youth minister that my father hired. His leading and the group’s participation in conference events set up the framework. “He made us each feel really important.
“You can only fight God so long, before you say, ‘OK, God you’ve won,” Taylor said. Once the decision was made, she knew she wanted to come back and be in ministry in South Carolina. Taylor had envisioned working for the State Department, but her schooling comes in handy when they go on mission trips. One day she would like to get a master’s degree in Christian education at Pfeiffer University.
Aside from the classroom, youth directors find strength in district or conference-wide gatherings of their peers. Taylor cited the National Youth Workers Convention this year in Nashville. Last year, about 30 S.C. youth ministers or directors went to the Atlanta convention. An ecumenical gathering, it has the approval of the UMC and attracts about 4,000 youth leaders.
Brandon Taylor grew up in Wesley UMC, Columbia, and conference youth programs. He did youth ministry at Clover and was involved with Wesley Foundation at Winthrop. “You work weird hours,” he said, and his first ministry burned him out in about 15 months, so he put his broadcast journalism major to work in television for two years. “It takes a very special person to work with youth. I find myself devoting everything I have to this job.” You have to be prepared and yet be someone who is flexible, Taylor said.
Things that work –
- “Breakfast with Brandon” is a prayer group one morning a week at First UMC, Myrtle Beach– drawing about 30 junior-high kids on Tuesdays and a similar number of high school youth on Wednesdays. It has become another outreach ministry because the church’s buses, labeled as such, are seen dropping off the kids at school two days a week.
- “Taylor Time” is an evening or day when Taylor goes into the youth’s homes to share a meal. He goes over the youth calendar with parents and has an opportunity to talk with parents and youth in their own environment. “Foundations need to begin at the home,” Brandon Taylor said. “You can tell a lot from being a guest in homes.
- Taylor has a unique problem: “There’s so much to do here,” it creates a lot of competition for Myrtle Beach youth’s time.
- A weeknight get-together for a church that’s not a destination is a “whoever can come” meal with the youth of First UMC.
- Much as they love to eat, Lauren Taylor’s youth love fasting. Yes, fasting.
First UMC youth take part in the B-1, 24-hour youth events that raise money to empower the poor and take away power from unjust systems sustaining poverty in the world. With each B-1 event, “they learn about the culture for which we’re fasting,” Taylor said.
- Mission trips: First UMC youth from Isle of Palms are raising money to go to the Dominican Republic this summer with UMVIM.
- “We do extensive mission work,” Stallworth said. Salkehatchie, a middle-school mission trip this year to Washington, D.C. is set, and the high-school students will go to Chicago. Last year, they went to Kentucky and Crowe Creek, S.D.
This year, they’re working with the homeless. It’s really important that kids are involved with social justice issues. “We talk about poverty extensively,” said Stallworth, who has a a m
asters of divinity from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., and became a Christian as a teenager, having partly grown up Buddhist.
Last year they talked about plights of Native Americans and then met with people who are trying to help them.
- “Serving the church,” is another thing that’s highly popular, Lauren Taylor said. The youth put on a Halloween carnival for the kids at the church, for example.
- “Super Saturdays” take place one Saturday a month at Platt Spring UMC. “We do service in the community,” Barrs said. “We went to Finlay Park and handed out bag lunches; we like going to laundromats and feeding machines with quarters for people or taking buggies inside at a grocery store; or cleaning the windshields in a parking lot and leaving a card on them.” They did yard work during the conference youth program, Revolution. “We’re trying to get out into the community and do random acts of kindness, going the extra mile for Christ.”
How to cultivate more youth directors?
The Episcopal Church offers a year’s internship for high school graduates to spend with youth ministers and a stipend of about $13,000, Lauren Taylor said. Some wish the S.C. conference had something for youth ministers, such as the Duke Divinity’s Field Education program or the Board of Ordained Ministries internships.
Taylor is pleased to see Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor’s interest in youth ministry and Revolution.
Youth ministers are not at Annual Conference; neither are many people younger than 50 for that matter.
“They are not going to be your laity voted to attend Annual Conference,” Taylor said. “That voice is not heard. We need to become stronger as youth ministers.”
Churches need to provide more stability in the youth ministry, Stallworth suggested. One big issue is that “youth ministers are underpaid and tend to be more transient. This church understands that and has worked to avoid it.”
Barrs believes the church needs to more intentional about developing volunteers for the youth program. “I think the people are here.” When people are brought into the church, the church needs to find a place for them to serve, he said. Some volunteers will have a heart for youth work.
Once you find them, you have to have training for them. Barrs, from a Baptist background with talent in trumpet and choirs, said Platt Springs SPRC “realized I didn’t have the training and gave me a lot of resources. I went to the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta last year. That was the greatest thing! I’m so thankful they saw that need.” He is also taking advantage of the pastor’s new-member classes to learn more about the United Methodist Church.
Stallworth said it’s a matter of having a program that reaches all the kids, and, when the relationship is right, asking, “Have you ever thought about going youth ministry?”
Brandon Taylor hopes to inspire youth to enter youth ministry as a vocation by his example. When a youth told him she was thinking of going into youth ministry, he referred her the Lake Junaluska summer program. “It’s a great springboard. You get the full experience.” A lot of people are afraid of such a job, he said, but adding to his comfort level is a good friend at a nearby church with whom he shares youth events and more. “He’s an older man but able to relate. You have to be young at heart and willing to listen” to youth.
June Willson and CCYM led Taylor into his work. He worked at Lake Junaluska, knowing he wanted to be in the ministry, but eventually ran from his calling. He hopes to go back to get a Christian education degree at Pfeiffer University or Columbia College.
“More volunteers,” is the wish for First UMC. Lauren Taylor wishes the retired folks there “could see how much fun it is to work with the youth.” Two women, 60 or older, she said, work faithfully with youth every week. She would like more.
Finding resources that are right without a lot of expense, would be her second wish.
Barrs agreed: “Volunteers” – adults who would come to youth gatherings and just help with games or interact in activities. “Establishing a youth council has really helped with the planning and trying to instill ownership within the youth and adult leadership. He values the training opportunities such as the one held in April at Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville.
Barrs began at Midlands Tech following his dream of teaching high-school history. School got put on the back-burner with marriage and a family, but he promised his wife he would go back – but now, perhaps, with a course aimed toward church work.
“More resources (money),” Stallworth said, quickly adding, “but this church really supports me.” Brandon Taylor wishes for more parental involvement. “Parents are under the impression they can drop them off and pick them up and that’s it. It’s hard to find good volunteer leaders because everyone is so busy.”
Ageism is rampant
Stallworth also wishes churches would “recognize that youth ministry is an adult job, not for fresh-out-of-college kids. Age discrimination is rampant. “They want young. I understand why, but I don’t agree with it.”
He cited Frank Smith, in his 60s and a youth minister at First Baptist in Greenville. “He does amazing work.” Another man in his 70s does amazing work and has graduated the kids of some of his earlier youth. What they bring to the table, Stallworth said, is experience; they’re better at it and more prepared.
He found himself at one point leading “18-year-old girls older than my wife,” the 37-year-old noted, which makes it “more of a peer relationship.” It’s not an age issue. It’s just about ministry, helping kids grow in their faith. Coaches say, ‘you’re only as good as the players know how much you care.’”
“One of my rules is I control the radio; they listen to my music (Bach), too,” the 37-year-old said. “I just need to create avenues for empowering them to be ministers themselves. They make fun of me with my antiquated tastes sometime, but they know I love them.”