After 30+ years of serving in the youth ministry space, I've always been taken by the wonderfully (and uniquely!) gifted men and women who take full-time jobs leading youth ministries. There really are few jobs that require such a diverse gift mix from people in their 20s (and older!).  Underpaid for their talent-level and yet given high and immediate expectations for their performance and maturity, professional youth workers are under unique pressures (one of the reasons I wrote The Self-Aware Leader) and yet manage to make a significant difference in the lives of teenagers.

So, why do people go into vocational youth ministry?

I recently attended the always-meaningful Association of Youth Ministry Educators conference, held this year in Dallas, Texas. One of the plenary speakers was Mark Matlock, Founder/President of Wisdom Works, a consulting group focused on executives and directors of organizations and businesses. He led the conference through a series of collaborative exercises as we considered the future of youth ministry in America.

oUsing the MCore Motivational Assessment, Mark has coached dozens of vocational youth workers, helping discover their gifting, calling, and motivations. In his final session, he gave us a peek behind the curtain to his consulting with youth workers and shared some fascinating findings regarding motivation. Mark tabulated the results of the MCore and found that there were six motivations that appeared in ALL but two of the youth workers he had coached. That type of unanimity is significant. Youth workers are motivated by the following (presented in order of how often the motivation showed up as a top three).

The 6 Top Motivations for  in Youth Ministry
  1. They want to experience the ideal.
  2. They want to make an impact.
  3. They want to achieve potential.
  4. They want to meet a challenge.
  5. They want to influence behavior.
  6. They want to meet needs.

These are fascinating and require more reflection that I can give in this short space. But, Mark made a few comments about them. Youth workers want to “move the needle” rather than just maintain. There is nothing about them that wants to settle and, since they want to influence behavior, they are regularly “upping their game” by making improvements (or at least they see the steps as improvements).

“Experiencing the ideal” may seem unclear as a motivation, but it's another way of saying a person is a visionary. A visionary leader holds an ideal of what can happen, that there is a way to give expression to something really important and valuable. It's the entrepreneurial spirit that we see in may youth leaders as they rise to meet a challenge with young people.

There were five motivations that NEVER appeared in any of the youth workers' profiles.

The 5 Least-Motivating Reasons to be in Youth Ministry
  1. Bring about control.
  2. Gain ownership.
  3. Make it “right.”
  4. Make it work.
  5. Mastery.

The five motivations that are absent intrigue as well, though not for always positive reasons. There's a lack of desire for controlling others in youth workers, which is good (I think) for a work that is largely about (or should be about) trust-building and cultivating relationships.

It's the lack of interest in mastery that has caught my eye because of its effect on those of us who train or teach in this space. If we aren't motivating hearts for ministry, we're missing the primary reasons that people attend our seminars and classes. If we want to help future youth workers master a content area or skill (we have to consider this!), then we need to make sure to touch their felt motivations first because mastery isn't a more pressing motivation. Which means excellence and learning have to also be connected (in the minds of youth workers) to one of the top six rather than be “learning for learning's sake.”

I think this is fascinating to think about and worth talking about with those in, or working toward, Christian ministry with young people.

What is your motivation for your work? Why did you chooose the line of work your in (other than for financial reasons)?