Wisdom for Rookie Youth Pastors: You Are Not the Pastor

Yes. You read that right: You are not the pastor.

I know you know this, but let that sink in for a moment, because I don’t think we, as youth pastors, grasp that concept very well. For example, it never fails to find multiple threads in any youth pastor group that laments how their church isn’t growing, it’s dying, or the worship service is only focused on the adults. With a comment usually followed after about how the pastor doesn’t seem to care. Yes, that sucks, but guess what? The health or future of your church isn’t your problem, that’s the pastor’s problem.

Furthermore, it’s not the pastor’s job to cater the worship service, or the entire church for that matter, around the student ministry.

I know that stung a little, but better you learn this now than five months down the road when you’re ready to pull your hair out. It’s no secret Pastors and Youth Pastors can have a volatile relationship, and the scenario described above can only fuel the fire. Other reasons could be some of us are pastors-in-waiting, or because all of our efforts can be cancelled out by a pastor who won’t lead. Either ways, the truth still remains, we are not the pastor, and we’ll have a better student ministry, and relationship with them, when we keep that in mind! So on top of loving, praying, and supporting your pastor, here are 3 tips to help you have a smoother relationship with your pastor:

Do your job.

You were called to your church to serve students, period. Yes, there will be other roles we will have to fulfill at our churches, but our number one job is student ministry. It’s easy to get lost in all the other roles sometimes, and we may think we’re doing great, but if you let your student ministry go, expect for you and your pastor to cross paths. His job is to keep you accountable for your work, and if other duties are taking you away from main role, speak up, and both of you figure out a way to ease your workload.

Keep the bigger picture in mind.

Your pastor is a major advocate for your ministry, but he’s also the major advocate for the children’s, men’s, women’s, singles, small group, education, senior adults, etc., ministry. When you make a decision you only have to consider what affects a small population of the church, however, when your Pastor makes a decision he has to consider everybody. What may sound like the best idea ever to you, may be the worst idea for the whole church, and your pastor telling you no could be the one thing keeping you from losing your position. Your Pastor’s job is to consider everyone, so keep that in mind the next time things don’t go your way.

Always remind the church he is the Pastor.

Lets be honest, we’re youth pastors and we’re called to be sociable. That’s great, but sometimes being sociable can work against us, especially when the adults and students we serve start to prefer us over our Pastors. When the adults and students we serve start to come to us about decisions the pastor should be making, or when they start complaining about him, gently remind them about his position and authority in the church. Moreover, anytime you preach, take a moment to share about something you love about him. Your church needs to know where your loyalties are, because just like there are people who are gunning for you, there are people who are gunning for him as well. Don’t get caught in the crossfires.

In the end, I truly believe that the reason youth pastors have so many problems with their pastors is because they overstep their boundaries. We take on problems that aren’t ours in the first place, and make decisions we should never be making. Let your Pastor be the Pastor, and you be the Youth Pastor. Understand your role and purpose within the church context, and do it well. And when that happens, I promise you will gain the trust, confidence, grace, and support you need to have a healthy relationship with your Pastor.

Why do you think Pastors and Youth Pastors have rocky relationships?

If you are a veteran Youth Pastor, what advice would you give to rookies so they can have a healthy relationship with their Pastor?

Missing the mark in Youth Ministry

Every weekday morning (okay –  almost every), I head to the gym to do a little of that crazy thing called exercise.  Today was no different.  I woke up, ate breakfast, took my daughters to school and then headed to the gym.  Parked in my usual spot.  Walked into the gym and proceeded to scan my card.  Here’s where it gets a bit interesting – the display on the card reader was reading “invalid card”.  Thinking the scanner misread my card I scanned it again and I got the same response from the card reader.  A few thoughts started to pop into my head, “did I pay my membership?”, “have I been kicked out of the gym?”, and the ever popular “3rd time’s a charm – scan it again!” – so I did.  Same response – “invalid card”!  Then I noticed the reason…I was scanning a supermarket key tag instead of my gym key tag…oops!

This little lesson this morning reminded me that we can be doing all the right things and not getting the results we expect because we’re using the wrong tools.  So often in ministry we fight hard to build a ministry or even a great program so students will want to come to our church and/or programs.  Once they’re there we’ll talk to them about what God has done and how awesome Jesus is – hoping they come back.

That’s totally different to the way Jesus did ministry.  Jesus went to the people and talked with them not to them.  When He met with people, He helped them experience the love and grace of God.  John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” (The Message) NOT “The Word became flesh and waited for everyone to come see Him”. If we put our energies into “us going” instead of “them coming” we just might get the opportunity to show more students the love of Jesus.

  • Maybe during the weekend take a cooler full of ice and water and some of your youth group to the park to give water to the kids playing basketball.
  • Head to the high school with a few pizzas and invite students to join you for lunch

Doing little things like this show them that you are willing to “move into their neighborhoods” and live life with them.  You never know what a simple act of love will do to someone – they just may meet that Jesus you keep talking about!

This post was submitted by Nate Eckert, a Youth Pastor at Flora UMC in Flora, IN. Want to submit a guest post? Email it to Ben@youthmin.org and we’ll go from there!

Why I write my own Youth Ministry Curriculum

We’ve been going through a bit of transition with YouthMin.org the last two months as some of the most active contributors have moved to new ministries, had babies, etc. etc. But we’ve also been going through a time of reflecting on what we hope this site does, why it continues to exist, and one of the things we’ve tried to do is figure out our main foundational purposes, things we believe to be fundamentally true about Youth Ministry that we want to champion. One of those things is Biblical Preaching/Teaching.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, it seems like the last few months have brought about a stream of posts along the lines of “It’s ok to buy curriculum.” And we agree, there is nothing wrong with that. When we were a younger site, and younger/dumber Youth Pastors, I know I personally used to be super vocal that a Full Time Youth Pastor shouldn’t buy curriculum.

But I disagree with the reasoning being given. What it often boils down to is the idea that you have limited time, you should be spending it with students, not at a desk. Some have even brought back the line that if you’re spending more than 10 hours a week in the office, you’re doing it wrong.

I still don’t understand where some Youth Pastors live that their students are never in school, maybe I’m just that terrible of a Youth Pastor that I don’t understand how its possible to only spend 10 hours in an office. But I think that fundamentally, this viewpoint of the role of a Youth Pastor is flawed. This way of looking at our roles places nearly the entirety of ministry on our shoulders, which don’t get me wrong, especially in churches where we are the only paid youth staff, we should have a full plate. But I believe our role has to be one in which we are cultivating leaders and enabling them to do ministry in a more profound way.

We would all agree that our role is to minister to teenagers, but we alone can only do so much. I believe that Jesus laid out a model for ministry with his choosing of the 12 disciples, and thats echoed in Exodus with Jethro’s advice to Moses, to establish the leaders of tens, and the leaders of hundreds, and so on and so on. How easy is it to think “none of my volunteers have time to minister, have the training to minister, they can’t do it the way I can do it.” But ultimately, I believe thats what we’re called to do.

So I write my own curriculum. I’ve bought plenty in the past, I still look at whats out there, but I write my own, not just because I think I can do a better job (because I know its not always the best lesson ever) but because it helps cultivate a greater ministry to teens. Here’s what I mean:

My students don’t need a best friend Youth Pastor

When did Youth Ministry get this idea? Yes, students need to be around adults more, students need Youth workers who care about them, show up at their games, invest in them both relationally and spiritually. But I also spent a significant amount of time recruiting adults who would pour into students, and they are just as capable of pouring into students as I am. I heard this statement once and I’ve owned it in our ministry since, that when a student brings a friend to Youth Group for the first time, I know we have a healthy ministry if they can’t wait to introduce their small group leader to their friend rather than to introduce them to me.

As a quick side note, no Youth Pastor ever accepts a ministry position knowing he is leaving soon, but there is still truth that the average Youth Pastor tenure is 18 months. This idea that we need to be spending all of our time with our students is, in my mind, devastating for those youth ministries that lose their pastor after 18 months, because more often than not you’ve gotten students more connected to you than to the church.

It’s not what we expect of Sr. Pastor’s

When us Youth Pastors think we have it tough, we fail to remember all that the Sr. Pastor does in the church to keep it moving forward. A Sr. Pastor has just as much expectation to be relationally investing in his congregation as a Youth Pastor, but we’ve somehow got this idea that in Youth Ministry that makes it ok to just plug in curriculum. Again, curriculum can be extremely valuable. But would you have anything to do with a church if you found out the Sr. Pastor was just preaching sermons he bought online? Think about this honestly for a second, if the Sr. Pastor’s primary focus was on spending time with members of the congregation, would that be a healthy church? I honestly don’t think it would be, there has to be time for elders meeting, for the administration, for the planning, for the vision, for again, cultivating leaders who do ministry. If it wouldn’t provide a healthy Church, why do we think it would provide a healthy Youth Ministry?

It keeps me wrestling with the word of God

Now I’m not saying that if you buy curriculum you don’t wrestle with the word of God, and I’m also not saying that you should only teach what you read and learn during your personal quiet time. What I do mean is that when I prepare my sermons, my small groups, it forces me to really think through how to teach it to a middle schooler, how to process the passage abstractly and concretely, whether its pure application or how it changes our thinking. I grow in my understanding of God and my understanding of teenagers every week from writing my own curriculum. This in turn helps me minister to students better through a number of outlets, namely the relational time I spend with them, as well as in how we train and equip our leaders.

I could continue to go on and on, because I do believe there are a plethora of benefits to writing your own curriculum, but this post is double the length I try to aim for. So here’s the bottom line:

Buying curriculum is not wrong.

Writing curriculum does not make you arrogant.

Operating in youth ministry that you have to do it all yourself is dangerous.

 

Changing the Standard of Youth Ministry

One of the things that drives the site managers and contributors at YouthMin.Org is the idea that the standard of ministry that many youth workers hold to needs to change.  And we know we are not alone: There are countless articles out there talking about nixing youth ministry as a whole; their arguments include but are not limited to: youth ministry isn’t fitting the needs of our culture anymore, it isn’t growing students up but extending adolescence, and it’s just plain lame.

We are just as tired of the current status quo of youth ministry:

  • Youth workers who wait until the day before to start preparing a lesson.
  • Youth workers who use curriculum without reworking it to fit the needs of their students.
  • Youth workers who plan events just to have them, without having any real impact on the spiritual lives of their students.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to understand the culture in which their students live in.
  • Youth workers who don’t proofread what they send out to parents and students.
  • Youth workers who still use clip art.
  • Youth workers who complain all the time about how dumb parents are.
  • Youth workers who complain about how useless their volunteers are.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to invest into their students outside of meeting times.
  • Youth workers who don’t keep Jesus the center, and instead focus their times on jokes/silly stories/needless games.
  • Youth workers who are teaching about sexuality in a way that shames their students and drives them away.
  • Youth workers who dress like fools and aren’t taken seriously.
  • Youth workers who talk bad about their senior pastor and other staff members (even Children’s workers!).
  • Youth workers who fit a “mold” that is so 90s and (can I keep it real for a minute?) exclusive to gender.

But, how do we change this standard?

Sometimes us contributors feel like jerks when we challenge others to up the ante; but let’s face it: Unless we say something, nothing is going to change. One of my personal mottos is “Don’t complain about something unless you are actively working to change it.”

Well, readers: This is me complaining and demanding a change.

Start with yourself–how can you start making some changes? Here is an example that will be close to your heart: We all complain that we aren’t taken seriously. Now, here comes the challenge: Look at the way you dress. Look at your youth meetings. Look at the type of activities and events your youth group does. Look at the way you lead and your relationships with other staff.  Now, do you still not understand why you’re not taken seriously? Begin this change in yourself.

Once you have gotten your plank out, help other youth workers with their specks. Challenge your youth worker friends to quit complaining about their staff and start exhorting them. Stand up for the Gospel and demand that we keep it the center. Let someone know that no one wants to come to their event because they are still using Comic Sans on their flyer… in love, of course.

Talk to us in the comments…
What annoys you about the current “standard” for youth ministry?
What are you doing to change said standard?

Changing the Standard of Youth Ministry

One of the things that drives the site managers and contributors at YouthMin.Org is the idea that the standard of ministry that many youth workers hold to needs to change.  And we know we are not alone: There are countless articles out there talking about nixing youth ministry as a whole; their arguments include but are not limited to: youth ministry isn’t fitting the needs of our culture anymore, it isn’t growing students up but extending adolescence, and it’s just plain lame.

We are just as tired of the current status quo of youth ministry:

  • Youth workers who wait until the day before to start preparing a lesson.
  • Youth workers who use curriculum without reworking it to fit the needs of their students.
  • Youth workers who plan events just to have them, without having any real impact on the spiritual lives of their students.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to understand the culture in which their students live in.
  • Youth workers who don’t proofread what they send out to parents and students.
  • Youth workers who still use clip art.
  • Youth workers who complain all the time about how dumb parents are.
  • Youth workers who complain about how useless their volunteers are.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to invest into their students outside of meeting times.
  • Youth workers who don’t keep Jesus the center, and instead focus their times on jokes/silly stories/needless games.
  • Youth workers who are teaching about sexuality in a way that shames their students and drives them away.
  • Youth workers who dress like fools and aren’t taken seriously.
  • Youth workers who talk bad about their senior pastor and other staff members (even Children’s workers!).
  • Youth workers who fit a “mold” that is so 90s and (can I keep it real for a minute?) exclusive to gender.

But, how do we change this standard?

Sometimes us contributors feel like jerks when we challenge others to up the ante; but let’s face it: Unless we say something, nothing is going to change. One of my personal mottos is “Don’t complain about something unless you are actively working to change it.”

Well, readers: This is me complaining and demanding a change.

Start with yourself–how can you start making some changes? Here is an example that will be close to your heart: We all complain that we aren’t taken seriously. Now, here comes the challenge: Look at the way you dress. Look at your youth meetings. Look at the type of activities and events your youth group does. Look at the way you lead and your relationships with other staff.  Now, do you still not understand why you’re not taken seriously? Begin this change in yourself.

Once you have gotten your plank out, help other youth workers with their specks. Challenge your youth worker friends to quit complaining about their staff and start exhorting them. Stand up for the Gospel and demand that we keep it the center. Let someone know that no one wants to come to their event because they are still using Comic Sans on their flyer… in love, of course.

Talk to us in the comments…
What annoys you about the current “standard” for youth ministry?
What are you doing to change said standard?

My least favorite phrase in Youth Ministry

“I just teach the students what I am learning in my quiet times.”

That statement really bothers me, for a number of reasons. I don’t think any Youth Pastor would argue that reading your Bible for sermon prep is good enough for spiritual health, and I don’t believe any Youth Pastor would openly admit to that in the first place.

But why this statement bothers me is because it robs your students of Spiritual truth for their lives and where they are.

It’s often said that a leader can’t lead someplace he has never been. If you’re learning something on Tuesday in your quiet time and preaching it on Wednesday or Sunday, you aren’t giving enough time to fully understand, and you’re more often than not, I presume, building up poor points to support the idea.

Not only that, but I know the things I was learning as a High Schooler and the things I am learning now. To a great extent, we should be calling our students to a higher standard of faith and knowledge of Christ, but at the same time, I know the things God is teaching me as a 26 year old are not the same things my 16 year olds need to be learning.

Get serious about what your teaching, plan it out. Don’t just rely on what God is teaching you, because your students deserve what God wants to teach them through you.