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The “Informal” Education of Youth Pastors

(classroom pic brought to you by Public Record Office Victoria)

As of late, I have been asked: “if I want to become a youth pastor, where/how should I get my youth ministry education?”

My answer:  Excellent question.  There are formal and informal routes.  The formal routes are Bible college, youth ministry certificate programs and/or seminary, which are great routes—but in this post I am not going to deal with these formal routes.  Rather, I am going to speak more to the “hands on” education.  My goal is to unlock the youth ministry education available outside of classes, all around you.

Be a Self Learner 

Disciplining yourself to be a self learner will catapult your personal and professional growth.  You need to love learning.  How to be a great self learner:

–  pick your learning medium. how do you learn the best?  Books?  Blogs?  Magazines? Videos? Audio?  Seminars?

–  select the areas you want to learn about.  for me i love learning about adolescent research, ministry strategy and systems, sociology, youth culture, philosophy, theology, navy seals, business leadership, online technology and communication/presentation

–  carve time in your week to learn ( minimum 3 hours a week)

–  take notes on what you are learning (i will talk more about this in the last section)

Bottom line:  keep learning so you can keep current.  You have to keep up to date because things are always changing.  Some of my IT friends go to bookstores weekly in order to keep up with some of the latest coding trends and techniques.  In the IT industry you have to be a self learner in order to stay ahead of the game.  In my early 20s, I hated learning.  But I realized that in youth ministry you have to excel in multiple skills and areas. So if there was a subject or a skill I didn’t know how to do, I would have to teach myself.  Being a self learner is a foundational piece when you value practical knowledge.

Learn the Basics of Networking

Networking gives you friendship, community, resources and mentorships.  Network with youth pastors locally, regionally, nationally and online.  Don’t be afraid to network with people across the pond.  I love networking because it fosters new relationships, which brings new learnings.  When networking make sure to befriend your new youth ministry friends on facebook and twitter, follow their blogs, get their cell number, go to the same conferences together and skype monthly.  Thankfully over the past decade networking has gotten easier due to social media.

Developing youth ministry relationships is so vital– I cannot stress this enough!  Your youth ministry friends will keep you sane, make you a better youth pastor and person and open the door for new ministry opportunities.  And who knows….. maybe one day you and your youth ministry friends can partner and do ministry together???

Get Mentors (Who Are Ahead-Beside-Behind You)

Surround yourself with wise people.  If you are networking in the right places, you should have no problem finding youth ministry mentors.  In my opinion, you need array of mentors in your life.  You need older and younger mentors.  Older mentors help you navigate unfamiliar ministry seasons and situations.  Younger mentors help you keep current and humble.  And mentors who are beside you (same ministry stage and age) completely relate to where you are at–personally and professionally.  My favorite mentors are the younger ones because they keep me fresh and on track.

Develop Case Studies of Your Youth Ministry Work
If you want to document your youth ministry work– Start a blog.  Why?  Two reasons.
1)  A blog is a great place to record your youth ministry learnings

2)  Your online youth ministry friends and mentors (the people who you are networking with) will be able to provide more insight and constructive feedback

For 3 hours a week write one blog post about your youth ministry experience, lessons learned,  triumphs, failures and break-throughs.  This is exactly what I did back in 2007.  I started a blog and started reflecting about my youth ministry experiences.  I had many people help me wrestle through some tough youth ministry topics.  The point is to reflect, write and iterate again and again about your youth ministry experience.  In fact, at Harvard Business School reading, reviewing and writing business case studies is a good chunk of the MBA education.

Blogging about your current youth ministry experience requires research, reflection, reading and critical thinking which provides for an amazing education.  Bottom line:  showcasing your learnings on your blog will detail your journey as you learn the ins and outs of youth ministry.


What are other informal ways to get educated as a youth pastor?  What are some obvious-everyday (and free) educational tools for broke and busy youth pastors?

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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  1. Love it. Ive learned and grown more in a year and half of blogging than I did throughout my time at college.

  2. How do you blog and still be descreet? Obviously I understand confidentiality and protecting personal info. Plus I don’t want to put everyone’s business out in the street. Here is an example; I just recently went through a tough process of deciding if I should stay at the church or move on. Seeing how my blog is linked to our church website I didn’t think it appropriate to post about that through the process. Would you suggest another separate anonymous blog strictly for reflection?

  3. I loved this post; thank you! I didn’t go to school for youth ministry (I went for Elementary Education actually), so this post really resonated with me.

  4. First of all, Big Fan! This blog is great. In furthering my educational pursuits for ministry, what books helped you prepare for seminary? Also, any good podcasts to listen to?
    Off topic, How can we efficiently reach students on social media websites?

    Once again, you’re awesome. Great Hair.

    • Andy,

      I bought 1-2 commentaries for each section of the Bible. For example I got a commentary for the Torah, Writings, (major or minor) prophets, NT1 (Gospels) and NT 2 (Acts- Rev). I also bought a Bible dictionary and the book: How To Read The Bible For Everything It Is Worth by Gordon Fee: http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Bible-All-Worth/dp/0310246040/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334883139&sr=1-2

      I am a big fan of Tim Keller’s podcast. I also hop on ITUNESU( (university) and listen to any podcast from any seminary/religion professor. It is a free education and you begin to understand how a seminary classroom works.

      I think social media is a tool to reach kids. Social media should be the means to the end, not the reverse. I solely use social media for contact work with students. However videos (youtube or vimeo) is a different story. The research indicates that teens are really only on Facebook and youtube. I am going to keep thinking about this social media question though….. what do you think?

  5. Jeremy,

    I think that Social Media is one of the most important things with students these days. I think that we need to use it to our advantage and meet students where they are. My question is how can we efficiently use it to speak truth into our students lives… how can we effectively reach them where they are…which is on the internet.

  6. Honestly, I agree with Ben above. I have learned so much more when I got into full time student ministry and in the blogging universe than I have learned in my years of Bible college. You have some amazing points, and I appreciate the reminders.

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