6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started in Youth Ministry

I thought I knew what I was doing but…

… I realized I had a lot to learn!

I was recently looking through some old pictures of all the different youth ministries I’ve had the privilege to lead. After over 20 years in youth ministry, I’ve had my share of successes and failures.  There are many things that I wish I had known way back when I started. Here are 6 of them.

1. There’s a lot I don’t know.

This could be a whole blog in itself!  After four years of training it can be so easy to think that you know it all.  Then you quickly realize that you don’t.

2. I can’t and shouldn’t do everything myself.

In the eagerness of working in youth ministry and wanting to see teens come to Christ, there can be a mindset of “I have to do this myself”.  I learned how dangerous this can be.  It can seem easy to think that doing everything yourself is more effective.  All that happens is that we get burned out and frustration creeps in. 

I had to learn that to have a growing and effective ministry there needs to be a team surrounding you. Having a team of volunteers who love God and youth and have desire to serve, makes life a whole lot smoother.  Identify the gifts that people have and use them.  I learned that there are people who can do things a lot better than I could.

3. Don’t try to be someone or something I’m not.

One of the biggest compliments I ever received was when a student told me “I’m glad you’re not one of those cool youth pastors”.  I have to admit that at first I wasn’t sure what she was talking about: I thought I was cool.  What I’ve learned over the years is that students are looking for someone who is authentic.  If you’re not athletic, don’t try to be.  If you’re not musical, don’t try to be.  If you aren’t into gaming, it’s okay.  Just be the person that God created, and students will love you for it.

4. Partner with Parents.

After a few years in youth ministry I was fortunate to attend a Youth Specialties conference.  In one of the sessions the speaker said something that I’ve always remembered “Don’t give parenting advice unless you have parented teenagers!”  Teenagers are going through big changes in their lives; they are beginning to push their independence and form their own ideas.

Parents are trying to navigate these changes in their child’s life.  I’ve learned that one of the greatest roles we can have as a youth pastor is to come alongside parents and work with them to help disciple their children.  Parents are still the number 1 influence in their child’s life.

5. Bigger isn’t always better.

It can be so easy to get caught up in the mentality that having the biggest youth ministry is what defines success.  I’ve sat and listened to those who lead large youth ministries and I admit I’ve fallen into this trap.  While its important to strive to reach as many students and their families as possible, numbers don’t always mean success.

I’ve led small youth ministries and have known people who have poured their hearts and lives into their ‘small’ youth ministries. I’ve seen how their students have been discipled and live out their Christian faith.

6. Take a Break.

Its so easy to get caught up in all that must be done in youth ministry.  There’s always a lesson to develop, an event to plan, a meeting to hold, or a basketball game to attend.  While all these are important, we all need to take time for ourselves to be refreshed and recharged.

I’d Love to hear from you!

I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts and would love to hear from some other veterans about what you wish you had known when you started youth ministry.

God Bless


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Matt is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has over 20 years of student ministry experience all over the country. He has 3 kids. His 2 girls are in their teen years so he has lots of opportunity to put his student ministry years to good use at home everyday. He's completing a Masters in Adolescent and Family Counseling.


  1. Matt, It is great to meet you online. I wish you all the best in this exciting endeavour. Wayne Townsend http://www.intelligentleaders.ca

  2. Thanks for sharing! We all learn from our past, but hopefully what we can share online will help others not make the same mistakes! I look forward to reading more!

    • Matt Ballsays:

      Thank you, I am also excited. Looking forward to investing into the lives of the next generation of youth leaders.

  3. Tyson Howellssays:

    Good article Matt. When we start it is so easy to think we know it all and forget to pause and learn. These are good lessons.

    • Matt Ballsays:

      Thanks Tyson, it’s funny how little we actually know.

  4. Carlysays:

    I’m just here because I’m a big fan of Pmatt and wanted to see if I was mentioned in the article 🙂 seriously though, so excited about your new role and couldn’t think of a more deserving and well suited person for it! We miss you and love you in Winnipeg! You’ll always be our pastor whether you like it or not. Ps. Great article!

    • Matt Ballsays:

      Thanks Carly, we miss all of you as well. Praying for you and Kyle, love seeing your posts of your trip.

  5. Matt Sampsonsays:

    Congratulations on the role you have in the kingdom. I am looking forward to hearing more of your insights over the years to come. Blessings.

    • Matt Ballsays:

      Thank you, looking froward to what God has in store here at Vanguard.

  6. Deb Hornesays:

    We’re just starting out in a little country town in Qld Aus. This was a great read, and I will take your advice into my role as a school Chaplain as well which I hope to be getting interviewed for in about 2 wks. Thanks again

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