The Five Dysfunctions of a Youth Pastor (Part 2)

June 26th, 2019

Last month we started this series on the “Five Dysfunctions of a Youth Pastor.” We covered the first two, “Comparison” and “Sprinting Through a Marathon.” If you haven’t read that first post, you might want to circle back and check it out. Today we’re going to look at the other three dysfunctions. Then next month we’ll talk about what to do when one of those dysfunctions shows up on your doorstep. Ok! Here we go.

Dysfunction #3: Failure to Delegate

A failure to delegate is about doing ministry tasks that distract you from your key ministry responsibilities rather than finding people who would love to help you with those tasks. This is not rocket science. But you’d never guess that, based on how hard it is for youth pastors to practice this crucial discipline. 

I’m friends with a guy who runs a significant student ministry in the Southeast. He leads a team of staff and volunteers. He’s also the main communicator at their weekly meeting. The other day I drove by where their group meets. My friend was out in the parking lot, putting out parking signs for their meeting. 

This is like Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, vacuuming the carpet in their corporate offices. It’s like Clayton Kershaw, the Dodger’s left-handed ace pitcher, selling popcorn in the stands before the game. It’s not that these guys can’t do a good job of vacuuming or selling popcorn. It’s that vacuuming and popcorn would be stealing time away from the job their organizations REALLY need them to focus on. Popcorn and vacuuming are distractions. 

It’s the same thing with my friend. He was doing a great job putting up parking signs. But he was stealing time away from the job his church REALLY needs him to focus on. Not only that, he was stealing an opportunity away from somebody who could serve by doing a great job of putting up parking signs. Why would he do that? We’ll talk about that next month. In the meantime, here’s a question to help you discern how you’re doing with delegation.

Diagnostic QuestionHow much time did you spend last month performing ministry-related tasks that could easily be done by someone else? 

Dysfunction #4: Starving Your Soul

Last month we talked about sprinting through a marathon. That was about doing too much. Starving your soul is about not doing enough to take care of your own spiritual life.  Starving your soul can seem like the act of a selfless person. “I love my kids and ministry so much that there’s just not enough time to take care of my spiritual needs.” Does that sound like a heroic servant to you? I think it sounds like somebody who’s about to start doing a bad job of ministry.

I learned about this from a flight attendant. In that little speech they give at the beginning of each flight, they mention that if the oxygen masks drop down, put yours on first. Isn’t that selfish? Nope. It’s strategic. If you pass out because of no oxygen, not only will you be unable to help others, you’ll actually be in the way.

A youth pastor who isn’t taking care of her soul is not helping kids spiritually. She may actually be in the way. This is based on a simple principle. You can’t lead anyone past where you are. If your prayer life is wimpy, you won’t be able to help your students learn how to pray well. If you are joyless due to a lack of intimate contact with God, you will be unable to help your students acquire a sense of joy. There are a ton of soul-starved youth pastors out there, running on caffeine and desperation rather than a healthy connection with God. 

Diagnostic Question: In the past month how many times have you either skipped your quiet time entirely or shrunk it down to a mere, “Hey God! Nice to see Ya. I gotta go. Thanks!”?

Dysfunction #5: Confusing Popularity with Leadership

This is tricky. If kids don’t like you, they won’t show up to your group. But being popular is not being a leader. It is necessary to lead, but it’s not actual leadership. It is a means to an end, not the end itself. The dysfunction occurs when popularity becomes the point. The day your primary goal is to be popular, your youth ministry will turn into Crazytown, USA.

A leader whose main goal is to be popular starts to compromise boundaries. They’re ability to make solid decisions becomes corrupted. They stop thinking about what’s best for kids and start thinking about what will make kids like them. Their self-esteem starts to become dependent on adolescent values. We’re not suggesting you become a grumpy old man. We’re just saying that when popularity becomes more important than leadership, the shelf life of your ministry will start to shrink accordingly.

Diagnostic Question: In the past month, have you teased one of the less-cool kids in your group in a way that drew a laugh from the “cool kids?”

That’s all for now. See ya next month! We’ll talk about what to do when one of these dysfunctions shows up in your life. Notice we didn’t say “if.” We said “when.”


John hales from Ventura, California where he grew up surfing and playing guitar. He graduated second in his class from Pepperdine University and then attended Fuller Theological Seminary. His first call was to Community Presbyterian Church, also in Ventura, where he worked with high school students. He subsequently held positions with Young Life, The American Church in London, Kings College – University of London, and Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently on staff at North Point Community Church’s Buckhead Campus. He serves there as the Director of Staff Development and the Director of Starting Point.

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.