I’m going to let you in on a little known secret among pastors and church leaders. Youth pastors get to have all the fun.
Pastors in student ministry get to go to summer camp, amusement parks, and on beach trips. Youth pastors eat pizza at midnight with students. They play all the latest video games. Most of them have the inside scoop on the latest fashion trends and lingo. All of them draw life and vibrance from the students they love so much.
But here’s another secret. Youth pastors are also some of the most under appreciated leaders in the church.
Youth pastors constantly get asked when they’re going to become “real pastors.” They get paid less than other pastors. They’re often the least experienced and most under resourced members of a church staff.
I’ve had the good fortune of serving a church that treats its youth pastor well. But my case is the minority.
Even still, most youth pastors wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Recently, the leadership at my church decided to move me out of youth ministry into an associate pastor role. It’s been a bittersweet transition for me. Sweet because of the opportunities God has given me. Bitter because I genuinely love youth ministry.
I’ve been serving in youth ministry (whether as a volunteer or paid staff) pretty much since I was in youth group. I graduated high school, but I never graduated youth group.
And even as I’m being moved into a new role at my church, I’ve determined to never graduate from youth ministry.
Because youth ministry is not the JV team.
Student ministry isn’t something young pastors graduate from. You may transition out of it, but you never graduate from it.
It’s some of the most important work a person could ever think of doing. Furthermore, it’s some of the most important work a church could ever think of supporting.
Here are three reasons why youth pastors are real pastors.
1. Students, After All, Are People Too.
It’s amazing to me how many older members of the Church genuinely seem to dislike junior high and high school students. They often tell the youth pastor, “I could never do what you do—dealing with all those hormones!”
It’s as if students are second-class human beings.
This mentality toward young people lacks genuine empathy. In these formative years, students grapple with some of the most important questions of life.
Who am I?
Who is God?
What am I supposed to do with my life?
This period of wrestling often defines the trajectory of a person’s life. During these years, students go through physiological and psychological changes at breakneck speed. They grapple with what career they will pursue, the kind of person they will marry, and what kind of value system they will establish for life.
All of that can be a bit stressful.
The Church would do well to be a steady presence of love in this critical stage of a person’s life. To dignify that this is both a formative and tumultuous time by pouring into the lives of these young people.
But too often, the Church feels inconvenienced by the “drama” of junior high and high school students who are struggling to mature.
We need to allow students to fail forward without fear of judgment. Most of them already judge themselves way more harshly than anyone should be judged.
If these precious souls can’t find love and acceptance in the Church, they’ll find it somewhere else.
2. Students Are the Leaders of Tomorrow.
While many people may look at a group of youth students and only see a raging ball of hormones engulfed in a cloud of Axe Spray, I see something different.
I see pure, unadulterated potential.
Students are an endless well of leadership potential. Many students are simply waiting for permission to do the things that God has created them to do. The only problem is that older generations are often reticent to give them that permission. Students need older and more mature believers not only to pour into them, but also to empower them.
Students need voices that counter the false narratives of culture—the false narratives of their own heart. People who simultaneously accept them as they are and who call them into something better. They need examples of older believers who are authentic, caring, and faithful.
Students need people to follow as those people follow Jesus.
The future of the church depends on this.
And here’s the amazing thing. When you pour into students, what you might find is that they teach you almost as much as you teach them. As your wisdom is coupled with their passion, God does some explosive things.
3. Students Are the Under-Utilized Leaders of Today.
If we care about the mission of Jesus, then we need to do a better job of utilizing students. Here are two reasons why.
Students Are Cultural Experts.
Youth culture should absolutely shape a church’s ministry strategy. And I’m not saying that because it’s cool or hip. I’m saying it because youth culture determines societal culture at large.
Where young people trend is where culture trends.
And students are cultural experts. They learn and adapt incredibly quickly. Students often understand cultural nuances that are imperceptible to older generations.
So if we really care about contextualizing the mission of Jesus to the culture in which we live, then we need to care about what young people care about. If they care about it, chances are that it resonates with the non-believers in our community.
This isn’t to say that we throw out every tradition or chase every trend. But we do need to care about how the message of Jesus is coming across to those who do not yet know him. Too often, the Church is content to think that culture should come to us.
But we’re called to run to the lost.
We don’t need to make the message of Jesus relevant. It’s always relevant. I know that. You know that. But do you know who doesn’t know it? People who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. So we need to demonstrate the relevance of the gospel to those people. We need to speak their language.
Students already speak that language.
We need to stop answering the questions that no one in culture is asking. Instead, we contextualize our strategy around what does matter to culture.
Students know what the questions of culture are.
Students Are on the Mission Field Every Day.
Students have the single largest domestic mission field of anybody in the Church—the public school system.
If the students of your church go to public school, and you live in an urban or suburban context, then you have unfettered access to literally thousands of young souls who need Jesus. Your students are on a first name basis with them. They eat lunch with them every day.
Ought we not to pour the love of Jesus into those students so that they can pour it out on their schools?
Youth ministry is about so much more than all night lock-in’s and loud music.
Our Opportunity To Show the Love of Jesus to and Through Students Is Limited Only by Our Dreams.
Youth ministry isn’t just a place to keep students busy or to keep them from getting pregnant prior to graduation. It isn’t just a safe place for them to hang out on Wednesday nights or after the Friday night football game. It’s not just about the pizza and hot dogs.
Youth ministry is a feeding ground for revival.
It’s also a ton of fun. 😉