Dear Students: We Were Wrong About Youth Ministry
We were wrong about youth ministry.
I began to write this letter and listed the things we as youth pastors have done wrong in ministry. I found myself needing to apologize for a lot more personally than just speaking for all youth pastors. If you can take a few moments to read this, I want you to hear my heart.
When I was seven years old, I felt called to be a pastor. I knew what God was calling me to do and it was confirmed again and again over the years. I became a youth pastor in my early twenties, and I have made so many mistakes. I want the students reading this to know I am sorry. I was wrong about a lot. We were wrong about a lot:
We were wrong about what we thought youth ministry was going to be like, and what you actually wanted and needed. We were wrong about not praying with you and for you more. We stopped seeking God and began seeking validation. We began to compare ourselves with other ministries and did not see the value in the youth ministry we have. We assumed a lot. We assumed what you knew about God and the Bible.
We were wrong about needing to be a good example, so we stopped being vulnerable. We were wrong about wanting to make sure you knew what was right, so we stopped showing you the overwhelming grace that God continues to pour out on us. We were wrong about the games and food, thinking more about that at times than the messages and worship. We were wrong about thinking you needed to be at church and did not demonstrate what it means to be the Church with you outside the four walls of the church building. We were wrong about wanting to give you the right words when you just wanted to be heard or just to have someone be there with you, even if it meant we needed to sit there in silence with you. We were wrong about not laughing enough and showing that church is supposed to be fun because God is fun and not boring.
We were wrong about not wanting to be seen as weak or “controlled by our emotions” that we didn’t cry enough in front of you. We didn’t show you what it means to truly be vulnerable. We were wrong about choosing structure over students.
We were wrong about not discipling you and having other mentors in your life by connecting with you with the rest of the Church. We were wrong about not demonstrating healthy boundaries and being frustrated and worn out because we did not say “no” enough.
We were wrong about not showing you how to honorably leave a group, in a God-honoring way; whether that is to a new church or when you graduate out of youth group. We held too tightly to you and forgot that you are God’s first. We were wrong about saying you belong here, but didn’t show it on a regular basis. Most importantly, we were wrong about not seeking God on a continual basis and listening to His leading for the youth ministry and what you needed.
We were wrong.
I speak on behalf of many youth pastors, and every youth leader, we are sorry. To every student that I have led, I am sorry. Our heart should always be passionate for the Lord and to reach each of you with the love of God. We will never be perfect, but we do not apologize nearly enough to you. You are important and valuable, and I hope you know how much you matter in this world, and in each of your youth groups.
YOU matter to the Body of Christ and the entire Church around the world. Through the mistakes that we all have made as leaders, I hope you find our heart still. I hope you know you have a place and your voice matters. You are the next generation, and you are important not only in the future but right now. I am sorry we do not say how important and loved you are more consistently. I am sorry.
Praying for you,
An Imperfect Youth Pastor
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