Off the Shelf: Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields

The first time I picked up Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry two years ago in my freshman level “Intro to Youth Ministry” class, my first thought was, “Who does this Doug guy think he is telling me how to do ministry, and why does he keep asking me to imagine we’re sitting in a restaurant together?

At the time, I was a brand new youth ministries major, coming off of two years as a camp counselor, convinced that I knew how to do youth ministry. After all, I was a few years out of my own experience as a student in ministry; I knew how to relate to students and what to do and not do. This Doug guy seemed a bit out of touch compared to me and my relevance to students.

In the two years since, I’ve thankfully learned a whole lot more about youth ministry. I’ve learned that Doug Fields knows what he’s talking about (turns out he has his own sub-section in the Wikipedia article on “Youth Ministry”), I’ve learned and experienced relational ministry and the difficulty of small groups, and I’ve become convinced that it’s far more than a high-tech hangout space that draws kids to Jesus.

Now, facing my impending graduation and in the midst of a search for an “entry-level” youth ministry job (which usually means “junior highers”), I decided to revisit Your First Two Years. Reading it this time, I felt like that teenager who is finally coming to the realization that his parents might have been right all along.

In Your First Two Years, Doug tackles the second-most pressing question facing me in my current state of life. The first one is, of course, “Will you hire me?” The second, and the focus of the book, is “Now that I’m hired, what the heck do I do now?”

In his great conversational and often witty way, Fields “sits you down” and shares from his wealth of experiences (and failures) in ministry, giving us amateurs an edge and a solid foundation to begin once we convince a church we won’t give their students fireworks or set animals loose in the youth room. It’s a broad sweep of what it takes to start well, one which no “green” youth pastor should go without. Doug’s 10 Youth Ministry Commitments in the first chapter should be tattooed across the eyelids of every youth pastor. The goal is longevity, according to Fields, and these ten commands alone are worth picking up the book. His discussion in the later half of the book on how to handle conflict are incredibly practical and obviously come from Doug’s honest experience. I have yet to come across a discussion on conflict management in youth ministry as helpful as what Fields provides in his book.

Relationships are the heart of youth ministry. More than any other endeavor in your first two years, Fields pushes the reader to get to know your students, your staff and your parents before doing anything else. This takes much more patience than we in youth ministry tend to be known for, but as Fields will remind you several times, youth ministry isn’t a sprint, and our work is never done.

Every youth pastor, wanna-be youth pastor, and youth leader should read this book. Fields has written it specifically for this audience, at times giving permission for volunteers to skip the boring sections so he can talk to paid youth workers about meetings and church staff relationships and the more technical, office-y side of ministry. Especially if you’re like me, facing the daunting task of stepping into a ministry green, you should read this book. Several times. And keep it on your desk. And think about that tattoo thing I mentioned earlier.

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