“What exactly do you do?” As a youth pastor, I am often asked this question. Many people view my job as glorified baby-sitting. I hang out with teenagers to keep them out of trouble. Others view my job primarily as a program director. I organize entertaining events and cool games for youth so that they will have something to do.
Now, as a youth minister, I do spend time hanging out with teenagers and organizing events. I also love games and as a youth group we play a lot of them. I think games are good. I think having fun is an important element in youth groups and in churches. However, youth ministry is more than fun games, exciting trips, and eating pizza (although, I do eat more pizza than should be humanly possible). Our goals as youth ministers can include fun and games, but they must go beyond them as well. One way we can do this by keeping in mind the “big-picture” themes of youth ministry. Below are three themes that I focus on as a youth worker.
Is what we are doing as a ministry sustainable for the long haul? Are we building a healthy ministry? Is the way we are doing ministry depleting our resources and leading us to burnout. Often, the youth ministry looks good from the outside, but inside you know that you are doing too much. The pace is too fast or the amount of kids is outgrowing your volunteer base. Everything is ok right now, but you’re heading for disaster. There’s a reason why so many youth ministers quit after a year or two. Youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Shared Service
Develop a team of youth workers. Every youth ministry needs to create a group of adults who are not merely chaperones, but are caring and supportive youth workers. Young people need adults who will invest in their lives. Youth pastors need adults who will support them and help minister to our young people. There is only so much you can do on your own. You need a team.
Our youth ministries need to help people grow in Christ. This may seem obvious, but often we can lose focus and place our attention solely on large numbers and the quality of our programs. If we’re not careful, we stop being pastors and become more like CEOs. Our calling and goal as youth pastors is “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) Our youth ministries exist for the same reason our churches exist. Our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In all our serving, playing, singing, eating, and praying…our hope is to have people mature and grow in Christ. Here’s one question I ask myself often: “Is the way I am doing ministry allowing me to grow closer to Jesus?” If not, then I need to reevaluate what I’m doing. If I’m not growing, how can I expect my volunteers and students to grow?
A youth pastor is more than a glorified baby-sitter. We are more than program directors. Youth ministry is not a church job, but rather a holy calling. We are called to disciple young people in the Christian faith. We are called to incorporate young people into the life of the Church. We are called to build and sustain healthy youth ministries where students connect to God and with one another. So, “what does a youth pastor do?” Yes, we organize events, play games, and eat pizza. But more than that, we are partners in God’s work, helping to raise up a generation in the faith.
What are your three big-picture themes for youth ministry? We would love to get your input in the comments section below!