3 questions every youth leader should ask themselves
An interview with Kara Powell
The FYI on Youth Ministry is a brand new podcast from the Fuller Youth Institute, where our team explores groundbreaking research, practical advice from ministry experts, and heartfelt stories from diverse church leaders and young people to give you ideas and inspiration for your youth ministry.
In our inaugural episode, we sat down Kara Powell to learn more about how she got her start in youth ministry, and gain insight into daily practices ministry leaders can use to stay spiritually healthy for the long run.
Here's an inside look at our conversation with Kara:
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Why are youth leaders important in a student's life and faith development?
There’s a phrase I love out of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, which is a verse that’s an important bedrock for the way we train youth leaders at Fuller Seminary and the Fuller Youth Institute. Paul writes, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well.” There's a holistic element of youth ministry that's really life on life—where we're not sitting in rows, but we're sitting in circles. I think that's what Jesus modeled by being incarnational in coming to be with us and what we now can do in return. God has used adults so significantly in my life as a teenager, so that's a big part of why I think youth ministry is ultimately relational and incarnational.
Measuring the health of our ministry
What are some things youth leaders can do to set ourselves up well for the long run?
You know, one of the things I've been thinking a lot about, in ministry especially, is metrics. How do we evaluate whether or not we're doing good, fruitful youth ministry?
In our youth ministries, we tend to focus on attendance—whether it's virtual or in person—you know, the number of kids we're seeing or somehow having connection with. And that's okay, but I think there are also additional metrics that should be added in terms of relational connection, and actual spiritual growth, and the way young people are serving. Similarly, I think in our personal lives, we default to a metric—and let me just get even more personal—I default to a metric that I'm not always sure is the best one, or certainly shouldn't be the only one.
I often think about my days through the lens of 'How much did I get done?' How much did I cross off my list, or strike through, or delete email? I think a better way to set ourselves up for the long haul is to have a different way of measuring our fruitfulness. You know, Jesus never talked about crossing items off to-do lists. What Jesus did talk about is loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves.
This certainly doesn't happen all the time, but on my better days I try to think about, 'How did I love God today?' Looking backwards at the end of the day, I ask:
How did I love God today?
How did I love others?
How did I take care of myself?
And even looking forward sometimes at the start of the day:
How am I going to show my love for God today, love for others, and take care of myself in the midst of it?
So I would say part of how we can have sustainable youth ministry is to make sure that we're evaluating ourselves by the right metric, and it's not activity or accomplishment. I think what Jesus would say is it's those three loves which he sets up as the greatest commandment.
Healthy practices for youth ministry leaders
Loving God, loving others, loving self. What are some practices that can help us stay close to God?
I would say everybody needs to figure out for themselves what practices help them grow in their relationship with God. I used to have a mentality that everybody should grow close to God like I grow close to God. Which was really, you know, narrow and egotistical. So I'll share my answer—but l hope every listener reflects on when they feel closest and how can they get more of that time in their life.
I feel closest to God while I'm praying and reading the Bible. I'm pretty traditional in that sense. I love getting time with God sitting on my blue couch in my living room in the morning. Sometimes I journal, sometimes I don't. I have some daily prayers—I did have 10, I just added a new one—that I review every morning. And then I pray for my husband and each of our kids. I pray for various things at Fuller and FYI. I often pray through my day as I look at the calendar activities that I have ahead. So I would say for me, morning time with God is really important.
Throughout the day, I find worship music is so life-giving. It might not be for others, but I almost always have worship music playing while I'm doing work, and while I'm doing anything around the house. Basically, other than being in conversation with people—and even sometimes then—I have it playing really low in the background. Worship music helps increase my God-awareness for the day.
And then, I think a Sabbath is not an option. It's one of God's big commandments for us. I go through seasons where I do better at that and worse at it. But I'd encourage all of us to figure out in our rhythms: How do we have, if not a day, at least a half-day or a few hours? I love Eugene Peterson's definition of a Sabbath as a time to pray and play. So to me, that means some aspect of growing spiritually and then some aspect of doing something else that's life-giving that I often don't have time to do the rest of the week.
Thank you so much for talking about loving God. But how about loving yourself?
That's often hard for us to do. It can feel, and actually be, indulgent. But when I think about loving myself, it means creating a schedule and rhythms that are sustainable. It means that I live as centered and as stress-free as possible. And that's looked different for me at different times in my life.
There was one time where actually my dad suggested that I set a limit of time on how much I was going to work during a week, and track my hours. That really helped me make strategic choices about how I was going to spend my time.
I also was advised by a mentor who was a long term youth pastor to think of your days as three chunks—morning, afternoon, and evening—and try most days to have one of those chunks where you're not working. A lot of times in youth ministry we need to be working afternoons and evenings. That's when kids are more available. Well then, how do we make sure we take some time off in those mornings?
And then, I'm not great at this, but I think we tend to love ourselves better when we have a hobby. Something that we do for fun—and Netflix doesn't count! For me it's reading—especially reading something that's not, you know, '10 ways to improve leadership,' but reading stories, particularly by people of different social locations than mine. That's a growing hobby for me.
So I would say, whether it's tracking your time or making sure you're taking off a chunk of a day, figure out how to create a sustainable rhythm. And that probably means you have a hobby—something you do not because it's productive, but just because it helps center you, or maybe you just enjoy it.
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Introducing a digital cohort for a new ministry season
New for Fall 2020, we’ve created Growing Young in a Changing World—a digital cohort experience to guide you as you apply the Growing Young core commitments to today’s realities, including:
How can you adapt to a changing ministry landscape?
How can your church navigate the complexities of intercultural ministry with care?
How can your ministry walk with young people struggling with anxiety?