Again, I might be exaggerating a bit with the title of this post, but as I was thinking about the topic I thought, “this might be the best advice I’ve ever received regarding working with teens.” This may not be the single most important thing you’ll learn about youth ministry. It certainly hasn’t been the thing I’ve hinged my successes and failures upon. But it’s something you probably haven’t heard and won’t hear from your typical training resources and it’s going to help you a lot.

Okay. Enough with the suspense! Here’s how I learned this great piece of advice. 

In high school I was in a class for future educators. As part of a project for this class I had to interview a teacher at our school. I chose my physics teacher. We talked about some basic things like where he went to college and why he chose to teach science. At the end of the interview I asked what advice he would give to a new teacher. He thought for a moment and offered (and I will paraphrase because this was a thousand years ago), “The most unique advice I’ve got is to pick your battles.” I must have given him a puzzled look because he expanded on the point with an example. “Like, if a student is twirling a pencil I wouldn’t bother saying, ‘Hey! Stop with the pencil!’” And that was it. Advice given. The interview was over. I finished my project. I got an A. And I never forgot that little, throw away line. “Pick your battles.”

So that’s my advice. “Pick your battles.” If you make every issue a disciplinary issue in your youth group, you will lose your teens’ attention. Your meetings will become boring and aggressive to them. Trust me. I’m all about discipline and teaching teenagers how to function in group environments. That being said, this is still youth ministry and it is supposed to be fun. If you treat it as school you will probably get the same reactions that school gets. There has to be some leniency. 

At my parish the biggest problem I ran into was the cell phone. Teens love to text. They would be texting each other at youth group while was teaching! If I were to stop the teaching every time to say something, I would never have finished a meeting and, worse still, all the kids would be in a bad mood. Instead, I would look at the kid who was messing with the phone and ask, “isn’t that right, Juan?” Another thing I would do is walk over to the distracted teen and just keep teaching from behind their seat. I would find ways force him back into the activity without having to put on my discipline hat. Most of the time the student would focus and everyone would find it kind of funny. The few times that it didn’t work, I left it alone. I just had to admit that Juan wasn’t paying attention. I think that’s okay sometimes. Even though Juan wasn’t paying attention, I had 30 other students who needed MY attention. If I decided to fight with Juan about one, small thing, I’d have ruined youth group for everyone else. “Pick your battles.” 

Hopefully this bit of advice helps you to run your meetings more smoothly. I’m interested to know what bits of advice you’ve fallen in love with. What makes your group run smoothly? Let us know in the comments.

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