Sure You Want to be a Youth Pastor?

He’s the other guy…

Yeah, he’s a pastor but he’s not “the” pastor…

“Oh, is that your pastor? He’s kinda young.” … “No, he’s the guy that babysits the youth”…

One of the most sought after, yet looked down upon, positions on a church staff is the position of the youth pastor. No one staffer is judged so much on their ability due to sex, age, married status, or culture (music, dress, etc…). No other staffer has a shorter life expectancy within a single church (18 months on average). No other staffer is bogged down by ministry. No other staffer is looked down upon so much because of one word in their title; youth.

If your church doesn’t have a youth pastor, but just someone who takes the teens to camp and on trips then you possibly have no idea what I’m referring to. However, if your church does have a youth pastor, paid or not paid, you may be well aware of the life your youth pastor lives daily. The struggle he/ she lives with daily. But, if you think your youth pastor is happy go lucky all the time, and has no problems either with his/her personal or ministry life then OPEN UP YOUR EYES!!!

More then ever walls are being placed around senior pastors to protect them and their families from the problems that arise personally and ministerially. Deacon and Elder boards stand strong to protect their fearless leader. However, downstairs in the youth room, on his computer alone working on next weeks sermon while hashing out ideas for the great kick off bash to school and the ski trip is youth pastor so and so. Drowning in a world of his own sorrow while no one sees the better.

Why is the job so tough for the youth pastor? It roughly boils down to two factors; relate-ability and performance.

Trying to find a youth pastor can become a long and tiring search finding someone who can “relate” to the teens. This relate-ability factor becomes a puzzle trying to connect four valuable pieces together.

  • sex– this generally isn’t a factor, but because in most youth groups the girls outnumber the guys some churches reach out to a female leader in order to have someone who “relates” to the majority of the teen age base. None the less, female youth pastors tend to capture less respect from their and other church leaders. It’s almost as if you can’t be a real youth pastor and be a girl. I think male egos forget the numerous ways God used prophetesses in the OT and deaconesses in the early NT church.
  • age– this is one of the many “happy mediums” the church committee will try to address in their search. If the leader is too old, people are afraid he can’t “relate” to the younger generation and their problems. If the leader is too young the fear is the teens will look upon him/her as just another youth and yield them no respect.
  • Married status– this was the factor that drove me nuts at a previous church. Even though I dated my wife nearly the whole time there; the question always arose about when we were going to get married. Somehow, single youth pastors (and even senior pastors for the sake of the argument) are seen as incomplete. A wife somehow evolves them into a fully developed youth pastor.
  • Culture– do you want a youth pastor who knows all about his teens culture (music, clothes, tv, movies, magazines) or do you want a youth pastor who is so heavenly minded their no earthly good? Sure you want the leader who can “relate”, but you also want the leader who can lead by their example as they seek God.

As the youth pastor struggles to find the happy medium within all of these characteristics they can often overwhelm their selves by trying to become too much of one thing or the other. What you end up with is a very unbalanced leader. An unbalanced leader trying to please his congregation and teens by what they think he should be.

However, the biggest headache for youth pastors comes on the heals of how well they’re performing. Their performance generally is based off nothing more then numbers. How many teens are they bringing in on Wednesday night? Are they growing? Are the numbers at least staying consistent? What new thing, band, giveaway is your leader doing to bring up these numbers? The congregation, while they wouldn’t admit it, could are less if the teens are growing in their faith. Most just want a larger group jumping around the strobe light before they eat pizza. On the flip side, while most pastors may like numbers to be up they mostly worry about their Sunday message. That’s a whole other blog…

Currently, some of the biggest books in youth ministry are about growing your numbers. If you go to any number of workshops or conferences you will learn the latest techniques for growing youth groups. Youth pastors know about this performance factor and live with the fear of under performing. If numbers decline or drop, leaders fear how this will look to their pastor, deacon, and elders. Fearing for their job youth pastors will grind their minds endlessly looking for a new way to grow their numbers. The fear of performing may shoot them into under performance unwittingly.

When you combine all these factors it’s no wonder the average youth pastor stays at a church for only 18 months. After a year of initial excitement numbers wane and he/she leaves for their next church just continuing this process over and over until they became a senior pastor and stay at churches for only three years!

Senior pastors, parishioners, and pew warmers take head! Help your youth pastor before he/she burns out from ministry overload!

  • don’t just offer help; give it. As a youth pastor I can’t recall the amount of times I was offered help, but never received it. If you tell your leader you will do something for them follow through. Youth pastors need all the spare time they can get.
  • acknowledge their hard work. When October rolls around most senior pastors are congratulated on a hard years work with food, gifts, cards, and hugs. Yet, most youth pastors receive nothing more then a handshake. You and your teens see the hard work he does, but you don’t see his/ her behind the scenes work. The stuff they do when no else is working. Often, their hardest work. Congratulate them on the job their doing. It may make it all worth it to them.
  • be a shoulder. Youth pastors deal with tons of stress and usually have one of two places to turn; their spouse or themselves. If they are married their spouse may become overloaded with their problems and get burned out before their husband/ wife ever does. If the leader is unmarried he may have no where to go and keeps all their problems to them self. Offer them emotional support so they can openly talk about their trials and tribulations. When youth leaders have no where to go they sadly turn to addictions to heal their wounds.

Now go do something to show your youth pastor you love and support them. They need it!

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