What I Got Wrong: 3 Things I Did Wrong in 17 Years of Student Ministry

January just ended, and that month marked for me 17 years in youth ministry. Last week, I wrote about three things I did right over 17 years. Lest anyone think I made no mistakes (those along for the ride over the last decade and a half certainly know better), I thought I’d reflect on three things I did wrong. This is not an exhaustive list, but when I reflect back these are three things I’d change.

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I was a people pleaser. 

I spent a good portion of my ministry wondering if what I was planning to do would make people happy. My bosses, parents, students, volunteers, new kids, my peers in ministry, etc. This is wearisome. It made me far too busy. It caused me to neglect my family at times. It was wrong.

To keep everyone happy, I often avoided conflict. I didn’t have tough conversations. I let things slide that I shouldn’t have. I sometimes accepted the status quo. I let people demand too much of my time. I always said “yes” when asked to participate on a team, in a task, or at an event. I was well-liked as a result, but it wore me out. It wore my family out. It was a mistake I wouldn’t repeat.

I’m still a people pleaser, but less so. If I could go back, I would never have started.


I drew unnecessary lines in the sand.

There is an art to telling the truth. I have always been firmly committed to doing so. While I’ve never regretted it, I have regretted how I’ve done it at times. When I was 19, I stood up in front of my home church and confronted them far too harshly. What I was saying was the truth, how I was saying it was not.

Sometimes youth ministers — especially ones with strong personalities and leadership styles — think we know how to do everything better than everyone else. Methods of how folks do church are not worth dividing over. There are things worth dividing over, and I’ve been there, too. But taking a stand on the budget, or facility, or preferences does not make sense.

And it turns a lot of student pastors into bitter insurance salesmen. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an insurance salesman.) I think if I were to go back and do it over again, I’d do some disagreeing differently. Not all — like I said, there are some things worth taking a strong stand against (heresy, criminal activity, etc.). But there’d be some I’d want a mulligan on.


I tried to do it all myself.

When you are trying to do too much, you make mistakes. Quality decreases. People think they aren’t needed. Volunteers quit. You do dumb stuff because there’s no one around to check your approach (or your motives). All of the following mistakes — themselves each deserving of their own blog post — were born out of my trying to do too much.

  • I set a kids hair on fire
  • I used scare tactics to get emotional responses
  • I left my wife crying on the living room floor so I could go to work
  • I got surges of stress and anxiety on the day of a big event because I hadn’t recruited enough help
  • I lost trust with leaders I should’ve communicated better with
  • I left a kid at a convention…twice

There were other consequences of not planning well or recruiting others to help. Probably because of those people pleasing tendencies I mentioned earlier, I hate to ask people to be inconvenienced to help me do something. But I’ve learned they’d rather be inconvenienced to help than inconvenienced because I made some big mistake because I didn’t have enough help.

None of us are Superman. Share the load. Not because you’re lazy, but because it makes things better.

I’ve still got mistakes on the horizon, they’re not all in my rearview. But those three categories of failures are slowly disappearing. I learned the hard way they have no place in my ministry.

Or yours.


Hey Youth Ministers…what are some of your biggest failures?