What Miley Cyrus Taught Me About my First Year of Youth Ministry

I get in the car with my best friend, she turns her CD player on and smiles at me. “I’m going to see if you can tell who this is without me telling you.”

I know instantly. First because I do not live under a rock and can recognize Miley Cyrus’ voice. Second because I saw the Miley Cyrus CD sitting on the dresser in her room. This lead to a question and a realization:

Question: Do people still really buy physical CDs?

Photo Source
Photo Source

Realization: You cannot enter your first year of youth ministry like a wrecking ball.

Yes, this is proof I’m always thinking incredibly deep thoughts. And yes, you may be trying to tell me the song Wrecking Ball is about a relationship. While I am not recommending the song (and I especially do not recommend the music video), I do think the idea has some implications for youth ministry.

One of the things I was taught in college about starting a new ministry position was not to make changes in the first year. Especially not any major changes. In the first year, it cannot be about changing everything to make it “your own.” There is a huge difference between someone who comes in swinging and someone who comes in with the desire to learn.

I am starting my first youth ministry position. I am not saying I am not going to make mistakes because I probably will. I am not saying I am the perfect ministry position starter, because I know I am not. I do want to learn. I do want to build trust. I want to start well and when the time comes, I also want to finish well.

Starting a ministry position is similar to starting a relationship in some ways. First of all, your focus cannot be about making it your own, because it’s not just about you. The ministry does not belong to me; the ministry belongs to God. The first year is especially important for building trust with everyone. It is important to pick your battles, and it is important to know what hills to die on. This is the time to invite open dialog and listen to people.

As I am starting this position, I want to be intentional about asking these questions:

  • Is the decision I make about something building trust or destroying trust?
  • Am I listening more than speaking?
  • Am I making all the changes myself or leading the group through change?

I was recently listening to The American Life. It was episode 513: 129 Cars, and they were following the story of a car dealership. One of the people working in the dealership, Manny, had worked there for a while, but he would not let the interviewer record him. Here’s part of the transcript from this episode (although I do recommend listening to the whole episode, which can be done here):

At one point, we found ourselves facing each other at his desk. He asked me if I had read the greatest book ever written about car sales. I don’t think so, I told him. What is it? The Art of War, he said, by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu, as you maybe know, was a military general and strategist in ancient China. The Art of War is his magnum opus, where he lays out his tactics for how to succeed in conflict. And though Sun Tzu was writing about actual war, the book has become well known in business and sales circles. It’s kind of like the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, if that had been written in the fifth century BC on individual strips of bamboo. So I went to the bookstore and bought a copy, and then headed back to Town & Country.

Brian Reed

Manny, how are you, sir? Can I show you the homework I’ve been doing?

Manny Rosales


Brian Reed

I handed him my copy of The Art of War, which I’d marked up with notes about its relevance to car sales. I could see why Manny felt that it spoke to his profession. Lines like “draw them in with the prospect of gain,” “take them by confusion” seemed especially on point.

Manny Rosales

How far you are?

Brian Reed

I finished it.

Manny Rosales

You finish it? OK. I want to ask you a question. What did you learn?

Brian Reed

What have I learned? Well, I’m here to learn some more.

That’s a good lesson for my first year in youth ministry. Not only was Brian willing to listen, but he was able to gain respect. In my first year in youth ministry, I want to learn. I want to be a lifelong learner. On a small scale, this involves listening to what teenagers are reading and watching, showing an interest in their culture. On a larger scale, this involves learning their fears and goals and desires, what they are passionate about, and helping to equip and empower them.

For one of my classes in undergrad, we were required to read Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields. This book has been around for a while, but it is still incredibly relevant for youth ministry. Fields includes his top ten essentials commitments in youth ministry.

Doug Field’s top ten youth ministry commitments:

  1. I will move slowly.
  2. I will regularly check my motives and evaluate my heart.
  3. I will steer clear of the numbers game.
  4. I will not criticize the past.
  5. I will avoid the comparison trap.
  6. I will focus on priorities.
  7. I will pace myself.
  8. I will serve.
  9. I will be a learner.
  10. I will pursue contentment.

As I am beginning my position, I also want these to be my essentials. I want to challenge teens to grow deeper in their faith, I want to empower teens to reach their full potential, I want to equip teens to serve, I want to love God and others, and I want to have an expectant spirit that God will move in the lives of the teens and community.


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