One Thing Surprised Me In Youth Ministry Last Year
I have been in youth ministry for the past decade, with summer internships during college breaks, year-long internships during semesters of undergrad and seminary, and full-time for the past four years. Yet, despite all of this experience, I am still learning things, daily, about church culture, organizational leadership, leading teams, family structures, managing and resolving conflict, and especially about students and adolescents. I would say that I was trained well in college and seminary, as well as by those who I had the privilege to work for and with. However, one thing that has stood out to me over the past year could never had been taught to me in a classroom or in an internship.
Here it is: My voice, as the Youth Pastor, only goes so far. When I speak to people, when I address the congregation, when I simply talk to my shepherds; they, (whether consciously or not), perceive my message through the lens of “this pertains to youth.” Now, I am generalizing here. I have great shepherds and I love my church. However, this reality has made itself known time and time again, especially within the past year. I cannot say things the same way that my Senior Pastor can say them, that my Executive Pastor can say them, or that any of the other pastors, who work primarily with adults, can say them. Even if I am the vessel to announce about a church-wide opportunity or call, people may choose to tune me out because they know that I’m the Youth Pastor. So, in their mind, whatever I might say probably only has to do with the Student Ministry.
This became apparent this past year when I was trying to drive and lead a church-wide service opportunity. It was a massive undertaking: Community-wide service in the county in which we live, a massive cookout and block party, service projects for all ages, and times of meeting neighbors and asking how we might serve and pray for them. I wanted my entire church to get involved, from 5 years old to 95 years old. I wanted it deeply for them because I know the impact service can have on our lives, especially if we serve alongside our kids, families, parents, small groups, friends, etc. This was the second year and summer we were leading this effort. We tried to make it as easy for as many as possible to join us. We chopped the price for participation, we lowered the bar for time commitment, we moved it to the weekend. In my mind, I’m thinking there is no way that anyone can come up with an excuse to opt out.
Then the weekend came. And some of my students showed up. A handful of adults and families showed up. I was crushed. And mad. And disappointed. (I write about this experience on another post The Conflict Resolved by Looking in the Mirror, so check that out if you want the whole story). Long story short, I spent a great deal of time reflecting and debriefing, and one of the realizations that came out of that was this truth that my voice as the Youth Pastor only goes so far. Though it was a church-wide opportunity and event, some people saw it as a Student Ministry event because I was the promoter. Granted, perhaps I did not make a convincing enough plea to the church when I promoted it. But come one, I even had people ask me about the weekend and if the “students had a good time.”
So what can we do? As Youth Pastors, are we stuck in our lane? Is there any hope for having a larger audience? I’m not promising to have the answers, but I will share a few practices I have tried to change in my rhythm in order to make my voice go further. The first is very simple but probably one of the most practical. Whenever I get the opportunity to give announcements on stage during service (about once a month or so), instead of introducing myself as “the Youth Pastor,” I say that I am “one of the Pastors here.” Again, so simple, but practical. Second, I have made it a point and given intentional effort to meet with each of our shepherds for a meal or coffee, as well as a handful of other adults from other generations. Third, I have forced/challenged myself to read up on leadership, to listen to podcasts, and to continue growing in my own abilities to lead others well. Fourth, I have jumped at every opportunity I have recently been offered to lead classes, give stage announcements, etc. as a way of getting myself in front of our adult crowds more and more. While my voice only goes so far right now, I want to do whatever I can in my power to work to change that.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.