Over the past decade I have been fortunate enough to meet youth workers from all over the world. I am constantly amazed at the shared joys and frustrations that transcend background, theology, denomination, location and so on. While it comes to no surprise that we share a common passion to share the Word with teens, I have been amazed at the common frustrations we tend to share as well.
I thought it would be interesting for church members outside of the youth ministry circle to get an insight into the conversations of youth workers. Unfortunately, the conversations between youth workers often have to stay behind closed doors for fear of reprisal. How do we have an open and honest dialogue when the potential for backlash typically causes many to remain silent?
ESPN the magazine has a monthly feature ‘Player X’ that allows readers unfiltered access into the lives of athletes. I’ve always been fascinated by the honesty in these anonymous authors and would like to bring the same openness into the conversation about youth ministry.
I have asked fellow youth workers to participate in a new series on this blog and NewVintageLeadership.org entitled, ‘Youth Minister X’. These youth workers come from different denominations, locations, and backgrounds. Some are close friends, and some are merely acquaintances. They are full time, part-time, volunteers and a few are retired. However, they all share a passion for working with teens.
The goals are simple: to provide youth workers with a place to speak their hearts without fear of reprisal, and to create conversation amongst churches and youth workers about ways we can improve our ministries.
If you are a youth worker that would like to participate in ‘Youth Minister X’ please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All contact information will be kept confidential.
I want to thank YOUTH MINISTRY X for inviting me to share. It should be noted that no one person is able to speak for the whole of youth ministry/ministers. Our ministries, our roles, and our solutions to common problems are unique to our church environments. So, I do not write or speak for all youth ministers, but from my particular context and perspective.
I want to start by suggesting a statement that I hope all of us can agree upon, and then build upon it in the rest of this post.
Statement: Students deserve well-educated, deep thinking, theologically trained ministers.
I believe that most churches recognize the importance of the students who attend their churches. The research and statistics show that a devastatingly high percentage of students are leaving “church” upon graduation. I know there are a lot of reasons for these numbers, but I can’t help but wonder if our churches have failed by hiring youth ministers who are unable to match their needs. I do not wish to overstate the role of the youth minister/pastor; I am aware of the statistics that show the role of youth minister/pastor is not as forming or persuasive as family and other influences. However, this is no excuse not to take seriously the person who is teaching, building relationships, and spending time with students.
I am grateful that more and more churches seem to be seeking out women and men who are educated to fill the role of youth minister/pastor. In my own circle of peers, there seems to be a trend away from “big programs” and “entertainment ministry models.” There is the desire to offer students environments where God is present and the Holy Spirit is working. I desire to help students through the disorienting moments of junior high and high school with the purpose of allowing God to reorient the students to his good purposes in restoring a broken world. I believe that this is what students want and need, because I believe that this is what all of Christianity wants and needs. I am excited, because I believe that this trend will continue in our youth ministries. However, there is much work to be done.
I wish to offer two observations when it comes to the future of youth ministry. Again, my premise is, “Students deserve well-educated, deep thinking, theologically trained ministers.”
Youth ministers must continue and pursue their education outside of the world of youth ministry. I enjoy the big national youth conferences I have been to. They have often been times of healing, encouragement, and learning for me. They are wonderful and fulfill a need in the youth ministry world. However, I believe that youth ministers must not rely on the youth minister world alone for their education.
I put off moving into full-time youth ministry to pursue an MDiv, because I believe students deserve someone who has been trained to think deeply. Now, I am not advocating that all youth ministers need a Master’s degree, but I am advocating that furthering our education is important. We need to pursue our education and read the great theologians of past, and present. We need to insure that we have thought deeply about the difficult questions our student’s are asking before we offer answers. We need to struggle through our own moments of disorientation and doubt and allow God to reorient us to his good purposes, and I believe that education is foundational for this.
Churches and church leadership need to act on what they say they believe. If student ministry and students are a cherished part of our current and “future” church then churches must take seriously who they are hiring. Churches should expect the person they are hiring to be worthy of the calling to work with students. They should expect the youth minister/pastor to be more than entertaining, fun, and high-energy. They should expect the youth minister/pastor to be able to think deeply, communicate well, and be spiritually disciplined. They need to take seriously the idea that their students deserve the best.
I want to suggest two quick ideas of how churches and church leadership might be able to help insure the “best” for their students.
First, churches need to pay accordingly. I know it’s a drum that has been beaten over and over again, but it is one that deserves to be beat. Churches cannot expect to pay their youth minister/pastor 30-50% less than their pulpit ministers and expect to keep their youth minister/pastor long term. If churches begin to seriously hire women and men who are educated and exceptional at their jobs then the church needs to be willing to compensate these women and men. I am not saying that churches have to pay their minister equally (though in many situations that would make sense), but churches cannot continue to have such large disparities in pay. Sadly, I believe that the disparity may betray the idea that many churches do not take seriously the role of youth minister/pastor.
Second, churches and church leaders need to be willing the youth minister/pastor an equal voice in meetings and decisions. Youth ministers, we need to be patient and mature in voicing our opinions. If churches have hired the “best” for their students, then that person is more than qualified to be heard on the important topics that face a church community. Churches who fail to listen and give equal ground to their youth minister/pastor may need to reconsider whether or not they believe they have hired the best for their students.
I want to again thank Youth Minister X for having me and allowing me to share my brief thoughts. I understand that very little in church is simple and there are a lot of factors that go into each unique church community. It’s not simple… but I do believe that all of our students deserve to be taken seriously and that includes who we hire to fill the role of youth minister/pastor. Let me close again with my statement: Students deserve well-educated, deep thinking, and theologically trained ministers.