The Five Dysfunctions of a Youth Pastor (Part 3)

July 23rd, 2019

Hey! Glad you could join us. If you missed the first two parts of this series, you might want to circle back and check ‘em out. In those two blogs (Part 1 + Part 2) we discussed five dysfunctional behaviors that youth pastors struggle with. Briefly stated, they are: 

  • We compare our youth group to somebody else’s
  • We don’t rest adequately (sprinting through a marathon)
  • We don’t delegate
  • We starve our souls
  • We confuse popularity with leadership

In the twenty years I worked with students I think I wrestled at some point with all five dysfunctions. I remember how bad or how arrogant I felt (depending on how things were going) when I compulsively compared my high school group with the one across town. I remember how my failure to take care of my soul really interfered at times with my ability to take care of the kids God had entrusted to me. Yikes! Those things made me pretty unhappy at times. I hope I can spare you some of that.

 Of course in a brief blog post like this I can’t offer detailed ideas for how to handle each specific dysfunction. But I can offer some high-level thoughts/suggestions for you to consider. So if you’re struggling with one or more of the above dysfunctions, here are a few things to keep in mind.

To begin, you’ll notice that we youth pastors choose to engage in these behaviors. That’s right. If you’re struggling with any of these, it’s because you’ve made a choice to behave that way. It’s true that there are things that can make these choices difficult to resist. But until we assume responsibility for our choices, it will be very difficult for us to make any changes. 

The principle is a simple one, “Until you own it you can’t change it.” You are responsible for you. Nobody else.

Next, it’s important to point out that the objective here is not to merely diagnose the problem. The point is to change the way you behave. Sometimes the “Ah Ha!” moment of gaining clarity about a problem makes you feel like you’ve solved it. But don’t let that fool you. Becoming aware of a problem is good. But it’s only the first step in the process of changing the way we live. 

That said, some of us don’t celebrate once we’ve gained clarity about a dysfunctional behavior. Instead we start beating ourselves up. I’ve discovered that self-accusation is a clever way to avoid the hard work of change. When I really let myself have it, it can feel like I’ve done something to deal with the dysfunction. But I haven’t. All I’ve done is make myself feel bad. The energy I could have used to implement a strategy for change has been squandered on self-accusation. 

Speaking of change, it may be that you were hoping we’d show you a quick fix for these dysfunctions. Sorry. There ain’t no such thing. These dysfunctions are complicated as are the reasons for why we choose to behave dysfunctionally. 

Can God heal these complicated tendencies? Absolutely! He’s planning on it. Will that involve a one-time miraculous intervention that instantly makes those dysfunctions go away? It’s possible. God can do anything. But that’s not the way He usually works. It’s likely that He will lead you into a process where you recognize the problem, start to understand why you chose that particular dysfunction, and begin to learn some new behaviors that will slowly replace the old dysfunctional ones.

If you feel like this is a lot to tackle on your own, you’re right. It is. Have you ever thought about reaching out to some of your peers at other churches? Maybe you could put together a small group where you talk and pray about these things. If that doesn’t sound feasible, maybe you should consider finding someone to walk alongside you as work through all this. Maybe you should think about finding a mentor. 

Here’s the thing about a mentor. If you’re willing to trust someone with this, if you’re willing to let someone who’s a little further down the road into your world, you’ll discover their experience will help you to make some real progress with these dysfunctions. We said we couldn’t get into the details about how to deal with each of these dysfunctions. But a mentor can. Finding a good mentor could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. By the way, if you haven’t got a clue about how to find a mentor, stay tuned for next month’s blog post. We’re going to talk about that in detail.

One more thing. These dysfunctions can make you pretty miserable, especially if they’ve been operating in your life for a while. We hope you won’t settle for that. We hope you’ll love yourself enough to change. In The Chronicles of Narnia, written by C.S. Lewis, Aslan, the Lion (who is the Christ figure in the books) says to some human children whom He loved dearly, “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.” God has some great days ahead for you. Dealing with these dysfunctions is going to take some hard work. But don’t worry. The best is yet to come


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.