Yesterday I celebrated my 46th birthday, and in November I celebrated my 26th year of youth ministry. I am now into my 27th year of youth ministry, 23 years of full-time, on-staff church youth ministry. Here are just three lessons I have learned from being “over the hill”.
There is a growing trend among youth workers. They are staying in youth ministry longer. They are choosing to continue on in youth ministry as a lifelong profession and calling. There is an increasing group of what some might consider “over the hill” youth workers still rocking it in youth ministry instead of rocking in a rocking chair.
While some churches and organizations may balk at a resume from someone over 40, there are many churches (like mine) that instead are seeking someone with maturity in ministry. It is because there is something to be said for the life lessons learned along the way in ministry and the things someone knows being “over the hill.”
1. Understanding It’s an Up HILL Fight.
Ministry is hard and it is not getting easier. While we live in a world of participation trophies and adult coloring books, ministry, especially youth ministry, is still an uphill challenge. Students no longer just show up because of a fun event or because it is the right thing to do. Parents do not just trust you because of a title or a position. Families are busy, which makes the youth group an option, not a priority.
“Over the Hill” youth workers have learned the hard way how to toughen up a bit and dig deep in pushing uphill to pursue a sacred calling. They know better than going into youth ministry just because it is an easy job and fun. Those who do will not last.
Lesson #1 from “Over the Hill”: Ministry is often an uphill fight for an upward life calling but is worth it if someone is willing to work hard and be committed.
2. Figuring Out Which HILLS are Worth Dying On.
Early on in ministry, everyone has those certain things that they believe are worth defending. It may be a philosophy of ministry or personal opinion that seems worth the fight. Often younger youth workers will end up quitting or getting fired for these really non-essentials hills.
“Over the Hill” youth workers over the years of ministry learn to soften and lighten up, in discovering what “hills are really worth it.” Beyond core beliefs and foundational truths, older youth workers have figured out how to let go sometimes.
Lesson #2 from “Over the Hill”: There are quite a few “hills” in ministry and in life that are just not worth dying on if the long term uphill fight is going to be won.
3. Learning to Not Make a Mountain Out of a Mole HILL.
An off-handed comment or a tone of voice, sometimes even an outright complaint, can quickly become a really big thing. Even if it is held privately in the mind and heart of a youth worker, those little bumps and hills are not mountains to climb. The little molehills in the grand landscape what God is doing in a ministry, when made into mountains end up taking over and over-shadowing everything else?
“Over the Hill” youth workers have learned that the little hills will trip up a ministry repeatedly until they grow into a mountain that completely stands in the way of ministry.
Lesson #3 for “Over the Hill”: The “mole hills” of ministry are not mountains, but rather small challenges to give us clearer perspective on the real size of the mountains and battles we are called to take on.