If there is one thing I've learned in youth ministry so far, it's this‚
"No man is an island."
Ok, we try. We try to have all the answers. And for a while, we might. But there will come a time where we'll fall flat on our faces. How that will look, I can't say. I can say, however, that it will happen. And the best question might not be, "What can I do to prevent it"? The best question may be "How can I protect myself when it happens?" The odds of a big letdown happening are just too high. We all make mistakes, and many times, we're the victims of other people's mistakes. When either of these happens, prevention is out the door. And aside from God's providence, the best thing we have to protect us from these circumstances being potentially "life-threatening" to our ministry is the community we've built.
Community is essential in the lives of youth workers.
To feel like we belong and are accepted is so important. But to have a support structure is vital. I've been blessed to find myself with an awesome community of youth workers to support me. But these relationships didn't happen overnight. They took time to develop. And I learned some great ways to go about looking for this community.
Here are few things I learned along the way about how to begin to build a community of other youth workers.
Reach Out To Those In Your Community.
What if you made it a priority to align, partner and join with the other youth workers in your community? If there is not already a network in place, what would it take to build one? It doesn't have to be formal. A monthly lunch meeting to share strategy and pray for each other is a great start. Who knows what relationships might emerge? I will say that this is easier said than done in some places. In our town of 8,000 alone, we have eight churches. I have to admit, I've tried to meet up, have coffee, plan community events, outreach, etc, with little success. But, you want know if you don't try.
Very shortly after being hired, my Senior Pastor informed me that I was allowed to attend one conference a year. As I alluded to earlier, I decided to attend SYMC. It was the best decision I've made in youth ministry. The community I found there has been priceless. Four years later, I'm still attending. For you it might be a Youth Specialties event, or one of your State's associational or denominational conferences. Whatever the case, you will find a group of individuals committed to the same things you are. There will be ample opportunities to network and begin to lay the foundations for community.
Make Use of Online Resources
The Internet has been huge for me building my community. I've found Facebook and Twitter to be great avenues to grow my connections with fellow youth pastors and youth workers. The respective communities of ym360, Simply Youth Ministry, and Dare2Share have great online presences. In my experience, the youth workers in these ministries work together to build each other up, not tear each other down. They work together to come alongside you, the youth leader that needs and wants help. The focus of these ministries seems to be on the community, not on the ministries themselves. In essence, they exist to not exist.
I have found a community of youth workers that are there to help. They openly admit that they don't have the answers. They are humble, loving and put others before themselves. I believe this community is waiting for you, as well. Seek out community in the ways I mentioned above, or in other ways. But, whatever you do, take the first step. Don't wait to see if community finds you.
Oh, and one more thing . . .
This isn't a situation where I know everything, and you know very little. This is a concept where we all have something to offer. I welcome your comments, input, and insight. Share with me. Share with us! We are, in fact, a community. A community that needs each other.