Someone asked me how I translated what I learned in youth ministry into my senior pastoral role. I thought it was an excellent question and that it deserved more than a quick answer.
I believe that being a Youth Pastor made me a better preacher than if I had just gone straight into the pulpit. Before you get all riled up, I'm not saying that YM was in any way a "stepping stone" into pulpit ministry (and remember, I was an associate pastor and I preached every other week for three years). You see, in YM, we get immediate feedback. When things don't go so well, you'll have kids sleeping, throwing things at each other, fake fighting, real fighting, making fake fart noises, laughing, cutting up, etc. When things do go well, um, well, maybe that feedback isn't so immediate. But you'll have some kid come up to you and say, "The other day, when you said _______, well, um, I was like, riding in this car with these guys, and they were like, and I was like, and it was like, um, just like what you said that one time in Sunday school." I knew when the kids were "getting it" and when they weren't. Plus, there'd always be someone who would say, "suppli-WHAT?" when I slipped into "Christianese." As the preacher, you don't usually get that (unless you went to the church where the late Mike Yaconelli pastored). You usually get "nice sermon" from a whole lot of people who get flustered when you ask them "what was so 'nice' about it?"
Something that helped my transition to being a solo pastor was being able to take what I'd learned, both good and bad, and put it to use. I was reading back through this blog and saw how excited I was for the new senior pastor to come a few years ago -- boy did that change after I worked with him for a while. While I found him to be a tiny man in a big body and the last person I'd want to "pastor" me, I did learn a lot about leadership from him. And the areas he lacked in were areas I am strong in, so I didn't have as much to learn from those areas.
From youth ministry, I already knew that I had to be me. Kids see through a phony immediately. I won't pretend to be what I'm not - I won't play that game. What you see is what you get. I've committed to being honest with myself and with others. This doesn't mean I just spew - nobody likes that. But I'm not pretending to be who I'm not.
Something else I learned from YM that's important is that it's not always what you say or what you do, it's where you are. One thing I always loved was showing up at kids' games, plays, band concerts, etc, and showing up where the kids gather. That's the same here, only the places where they gather are different. Sometimes just showing up for local events helps people realize that you care -- and that you're human, too.
What else have I learned? Oh, yeah. I found out in YM that kids can be really set in their ways and concerned about "how they've always done it" - and (surprise) adults can be that way, too. I learned from YM various ways to deal with the "that's not how we've always done it" syndrome, and that translates directly into the pastorate.
If you've got any other questions or transitional hints, post them in the comments section!