Whenever I interact with student ministry workers from other churches the inevitable question awkwardly slips out, “So…how big is your youth group?” When I answer, some people get this wanting look in their eyes as if I am describing what it was like to eat Filet Mignon at a restaurant they’ll never be able to afford. I know exactly what this is about. I used to have mega-church envy myself. Those flashing lights, the stage sets and ginormous crowds mesmerized me. Then God smiled upon me and scored me a job at a mega-church. At least, that’s how my thinking went at the time. Now I understand that student ministry is student ministry and there are a fantastic and lame things about working in a small or large environment. Here’s a little of what I’ve learned.
Working Directly With Students
As a student pastor in a smaller church I constantly interacted directly with students. I love students. I love learning about their world and doing my best to counsel and mentor them toward Jesus. Working in a small church, this was my primary role.
As a student pastor in a mega-church my role changed dramatically. My direct interactions with students dropped sharply. I discovered that in a mega church environment students want to hang out with their small group leader instead of me. I went from being extremely sought after to “that weird guy in the announcement videos.”
Working on a Team
In a smaller church, my student ministry staff (me and…me) always loved my ideas and were quick to support and implement them. Sure we occasionally made bad decisions but we were able to implement our ideas quickly.
One of the first things I discovered about working within a student ministry team is that people don’t always love my ideas. In fact, sometimes they hate them. In a mega church with multiple staff I have to do really annoying things like defend my ideas and demonstrate why new programs or events are good ideas. I hate this sort of thing. When will everyone realize that I’m a genius and just blindly follow me?
Variety vs. Specialization
I get bored easily. I love having multiple projects spinning at once so that when I lose interest in what I am doing I can jump to another project. As a student pastor in a smaller church, I was responsible for just about everything. I was the teacher, strategist, planner, worship leader, mentor, volunteer coordinator…those of you who work in a smaller environment know exactly what I’m talking about. I loved the variety.
In a large student ministry, there are experts who work in each realm of ministry and I only get to do one or two. And by experts, I mean that they possess far more knowledge and skill than me. I have become much more proficient in my areas of responsibility because of my work experience on a team of experts but sometimes I get bored.
In a smaller church you are “the” youth pastor or at least the middle school or high school pastor. In other words, you are in the spotlight. When things go well people love you. When things go wrong you’ve got some explaining to do…at the board meeting.
As part of a student ministry team in a mega-church, the spotlight doesn’t often find me. When things go wrong, the team often shares the blame. Conversely, when something goes well in our ministry the person who gets credit is typically my boss. Honestly, most people in our congregation don’t have a clue who I am.
So that’s a taste of what it’s like to work in a smaller church and a mega-church. Student ministry is student ministry. There are pros and cons to smaller and larger environments. Feel free to add to my list.
image credited to cubedude27