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I unlocked my office door and dropped my church keys on my desk. Starting my first youth ministry job had my head spinning with questions:

  • What do I need to know starting out?
  • How can I best minister to the youth in my care?
  • Where do I learn to handle all the pressures that immediately come to me? Balancing parents, church leadership, pastoral staff and the church secretary is already a struggle.
  • Now, looking back as a 30 year ministry veteran, what advice would I give to that guy standing in his new office?

I began youth ministry in the early 1980’s at the “wise old” age of 19. Like most my age, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise. I leaned toward an occupation as a Ranger working in a nearby National Park, but my pastor and youth pastor had a different plan for me. In between my freshman and sophomore years of college my church took me on as a summer intern. Like many interns I loved it and thought, “I can get paid to do this fun stuff?” This experience kindled an interest and passion for ministry that has carried me through to this day.

After a 34 year ministry journey, which includes a wide variety of ministry roles, I am now in my mid-50’s and invest in training and preparing people for entrepreneurial ministry as a faculty member at Tabor College.

Looking back I feel like I have learned a few things over the past years, and this post is the first in a blog series called, “Notes to my younger self.” In future posts I plan to share stories from my Youth Ministry past and offer insights I wished I would have known back then. Hopefully, by listening in on this conversation, it will also help you who read it today.

Before jumping into the series, first a bit about me. When I was starting 7th grade, my parents moved us to a new community. With the move came a new church which became a vocation-shaping place for me. I met pastor Bob Clayton and youth pastor Carman Ruggeri, who were to have a life-long impact on my call and vocation. During those years Bob and Carman began to invite me into the vocation of ministry. They modeled what the book Growing Young identified in chapter 2 as “unlocking keychain leadership.” Bob and Carman continually called me into ministry leadership, even when I initially resisted. When I finally accepted their “summons,” they provided access to get involved right away, which led to the summer internship.

I graduated from Fresno Pacific, a Christian college, with a Christian Ministry degree. However, I did not feel adequately prepared to launch out and run my own youth group so I joined “Christian Service,” a two year peace-corps type program run by the Mennonite Brethren church for young adults working in a variety of ministries. For me, this was an excellent way to get youth ministry experience and learn under the watchful eye of Bruce Porter, a youth ministry veteran. When I completed the 2 year program, I felt better prepared to launch out and serve on my own.

I spent an additional two years as a youth pastor then transitioned to Seminary where I also worked part time in a church. During that time, ministry expanded to include worship leading and involvement with general church leadership. After graduating from Seminary, my wife and I moved to England to work with Youth for Christ. More on that experience in future posts. Along the way I have had other great youth ministry mentors. Still, there were tough things I learned along the way that in hindsight I want to reflect on. The next blog posts will do just that.

– Dr. Rick Bartlett
Twitter: @rbb2nd

Discussion Questions:
1. Who are the people in your life who have encouraged you into ministry? Have you thanked them? If not, send a note or text today.
2. If you “hold the keys” at your ministry, with whom are you sharing them? See the book Growing Young from Fuller Youth Institute for more info.
3. Even if you’re new in ministry, what have you learned that you would share with an earlier version of yourself? Write that down and share it with someone who is newer than you in youth ministry.

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