When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11, MSG) 

I will always be thankful for Rob Smith. He was an elder in a church a served over a decade ago now. Quite often on Friday mornings, Rob would call and ask if he could come by my office and talk. This usually occurred about once a month (the morning after church board meetings). When a church elder calls and sets up and appointment with you there could be reason for alarm; however, I quickly learned that Rob's motives were in my best interest. 

Before long I learned to await our morning meetings with anxious anticipation. His words were not always kind, but they were loving. His honest criticism taught me invaluable lessons that I carry to this very day. We could all use leadership like that. Let's really think about it.

Diplomatic and Tactful – How often do you think those two words are used to describe youth leaders? There was period in my ministry when I would have never asked that question because I honestly didn't care. After all, a youth leader's job is to reach kids for Jesus Christ, and we must do any and everything possible to accomplish that purpose, right? Yes, but any and everything without diplomacy and tact only causes us to get burned-out, worn out, or thrown out. 

There are two ideas I want us to look at today about professional perceptions: First, how do local professionals in your community view us? Second (and just as important), how do we look at them? 

Many youth leaders (paid and volunteer) give little thought to the profession people in their community until they need something from them (i.e. - money, supplies, food). This is very unfortunate.

It is important to remember that youth ministry is an extension of the church, and the local church is part of the community. The students we work with are either neighbors, customers, or future employees of local businesses and their owners.

Ask this question with that in mind: Does the youth ministry have a major impact on professionals? You bet it does. The lessons we teach as we help young people grow to be serious leaders in this world have everything to do with local business and economy. Youth ministry is an asset to the men and women who run these institutions (or at least it should be). It's time for us to start recognizing their value and the value we can be to them. Until that happens, don't expect them to esteem the ministries we lead either. 

Another aspect of today's questions deal with how professionals literally look at youth leaders. Image is important! There are many young youth leaders who do not give this a second thought because they only care about how their students view them. 

Unfortunately, some have grown into older youth leaders who haven't learned to appreciate the value of public persona. Whether we are vocational or volunteer youth leaders, I challenge us to be professional. The community we minister within is full of skeptics and cynics who see us as overgrown teens who have not grown up, yet. Honestly, many have not. 

The relationships youth leaders have on local business professionals should not be taken lightly. In most cases, these people were there before us, and they will be there after we resign, retire, or run off. What are we doing to raise the level professionalism in our ministries?

Let me give you three practical points to help you in this area: 

  1. Pray: Create a prayer team in your ministry who intentionally prays for local businesses and their owners. Do not hesitate to let them know of your desire to see them succeed. Actually, let them know of your prayer team. Take the time to make a prayer guide and ask these individuals how you can pray for their business.
  2. Play: Is there a local Lion's Club, Rotary, or Chamber of Commerce in your community? These civic organizations are made up of local professionals who tackle community issues all the time. Join them in their work. Serve on their committees. You will end up playing together and building important relationships.
  3. Plan: Many youth ministries are viewed as teens who take more than groups that give. Your local businesses have projects that you could possibly assist with. Perhaps there buildings that need painted, lawns that need mowed, or sidewalks that need swept. Your ministry should plan to help with those needs free of charge. 

Rob Smith taught me to pay attention to my image. In order to accomplish this I had to watch life: my ways, my words, and my wardrobe. My unwillingness to consider people's perception of my personal behavior would have been much like holding on to the childish things Paul talks of in today's text. 

While teens are our target audience, there are countless individuals in the community who can impact their lives. Those people listen to other's perceptions of us and the youth ministries we serve. It is time to start paying attention to what they are saying. Our commitment to professionals and professionalism will have an long-term effect on the work we do in God's Kingdom.

Pray about that today and remember that youth ministry is all about relationships.

© 2004. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint may be obtained at request@onepassion.com.
Timothy Eldred is the President of One Passion Worldwide (OPW) in Branson, MO and the founder of 1:1 SolutionsSeminars. While he travels extensively teaching principles of relationship-based ministry to churches, he continue to serve as the Teaching Pastor of New Beginnings Christian Family Fellowship in Six Lakes, MI. Tim resides in Edmore, MI with his wife, Cindy, and their two sons.
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