No More Youth Pastors? (Part I)

eBook___The_youth_pastor_471383682 Last week I announced I was going to spend some time this Fall talking about youth ministry.  More specifically, how I think it needs to change.  Today represents a further effort in that direction.

So: let’s think about youth pastors.  In most Protestant churches of a certain size, there is a person on staff whose job it is to provide spiritual guidance and direction to adolescents.  The title can vary, from “youth pastor,” “youth minister,” “minister to youth, or even “nextgen pastor” and so on.  They have become so common that most congregations accept their role as a given in any hiring strategy.

Youth pastors, of course, have not always existed.  While the church has always ministered to its people–younger ones included–the innovation of having a full-time minister for youth is only around thirty to forty years old.  A relatively short time when one considers the two thousand years of Christian history.

The need for youth ministry in our current state rose out of perceived changes and needs in American youth culture.  The Church had to adapt to changes over time, and in this case it did.  But now, a number of decades into this, I would suggest that our experience with youth pastors and the needs we see displayed calls for a new way of thinking about things.  As my title suggests, perhaps it is time to bid farewell to youth pastors.539272_286878791417822_1609029950_n

Before you stop reading, please hear me on this.  I myself was a youth pastor for six years.  Since August 2011 I’ve been the Associate Professor of Youth Ministries at my school.  I attend my own church’s youth ministry meetings and serve in a kind of advisory role to youth pastors in our region.  Please understand, in other words, that I’m not speaking out of ignorance or any kind of desire to watch the world burn.

When I think about “getting rid” of youth pastors, I’m not saying that we delete the role and subsequently ignore the adolescents in our midst.  Far from it.  Instead, I believe that churches should rethink the title and responsibilities of youth pastors and their place in our congregations.  For too long, hiring someone in this role–while a sign that the church cares about young people–has nevertheless carried with it some problems and limitations.

youth-ministry-cartoonFirst, it has meant that working with teenagers has been “outsourced” to the professional, so to speak.  The rest of the church need not worry about teens if their resident expert is doing so.  Second, the title of “youth pastor” has not been taken as seriously as it should.  Instead it is often perceived as a training ground for “real” ministry.  Third, having a youth pastor has not only made the congregation more apathetic about its own work with teens, but it may be having the effect of absolving parents and families of their spiritual responsibilities.  After all, why do they need to worry about things when Pastor Josh and his college-aged volunteers are doing it all?

Lastly, the existence of the youth pastor can send the silent message to students that he or she is their pastor–not the lead pastor of the entire congregation.  In addition to cutting off ministers and youth alike from deeper interaction, this can contribute to an unintentional division within the body of Christ and a continued silo-ization of ministries that is troubling.

To Be Continued…


3 comments on “No More Youth Pastors? (Part I)

  1. Troop113 says:

    Its not a fair or reasonable burden for the Youth Pastor (or “Sunday school team”) when members adopt/hold the view of “outsourcing” teaching, discipleship, and setting the primary example of Christian Living when Fathers and Mothers have that primary duty themselves (Dt 4:10, Dt 6:1-9, Dt 11:19, Ps 78:4-6, Ps 127:3-5, Pr 22:6, Eph 6:4, Col. 3:21, Heb 12:9-10). George Marsden, a biographer of Jonathan Edwards provided a glimpse into his home life “…began the day with private prayers followed by family prayers, by candlelight in winter… Care for his children’s souls was, of course, his pre-eminent concern. In the morning devotions he quizzed them on Scripture with questions appropriate to their ages… Each meal was accompanied by household devotions, and at the end of each day Sarah joined him in his study for prayers.” If that were the home life of the typical church goer, then many of the issues we face in modern society (let alone “Youth Pastor” duties in the modern church) would largely resolve themselves through the power of God and leading of the Holy Spirit. Strengthening Men’s Ministry to re-equip (and hold accountable in a productive, supportive manner) men to be effective, engaged, caring, proactive Husbands and Fathers would put Youth Pastors in a role to actually become “specialists” — augmenting the family’s devotions, supporting Dads and Moms (and teens), and able to step in for special situations where their talents and passion can best be employed for the greater benefit of both family and the larger congregation (or perhaps taking a greater leadership role in outreach to youth of the community!) Just 2 cents, sorry to ramble.

  2. wcosnett says:

    I’m just getting caught up with this, so I’m a couple of days behind, but I agree with all of your points from personal experience. I have been asked how long I was going to work with youth before I became a real pastor. I’ve been four years into my career with two masters degrees and still referred to as the “Student Pastor”. It’s also a common phenomenon for a church to hire a full time, 40 hour a week youth pastor only to have a team of volunteers who had been putting 60 hours a week into the program drop out because they felt they had done their part and now they were paying all this money for someone so why should they do their job for them? The result is that the church is paying more, but ultimatley the program is getting less attention. The Youth Pastor is seen as a replacement, not an addition to the previous ministries.

    One thing I think you touched on, but I wanted to highlight, is the inordinate focus and pressure some churches put on the position. They look at their congregation that is shrinking and aging and naturally turn to the youth pastor or christian education director as the one to bring young people into the church, fill their Sunday school and worship with children, youth, and their families and single handedly turn back the decades to restore the church as they remember it. I’ve seen too many churches facing closure decide to take what little resources they have left to hire a full time youth person to turn things around. I think this is a weight that the position was not intended for and cannot bear, especially since it often does not come with the requisite authority to make any meaningful change. I do wonder how many of the issues the church currently have with the position stem from it’s movement from a supplemental ministry for a healthy church to a focal ministry for an unhealthy one.

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