Time To Reinvent The Wheel
What comes to mind when you hear the words “youth pastor”? We live in an ever-changing world, yet for most people, it seems that the youth pastor stereotype has stood the test of time. We picture someone young, hip, and in-the-know. We assume that they are tech-savvy and a master of creative games. We expect that they will be immature, bend church rules, break church property, and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. We trust that they are charismatic, funny, and able to “relate” to students. Even in 2017, the youth pastor is expected to be young and inexperienced, but fun.
Does it need to be that way? Is youth ministry just a place where people take a few years to mature and smarten up before they become real pastors? As someone who is passionate about youth ministry, I believe the answer is no. This stereotype desperately needs to be broken if we want to serve youth and the larger church body. There are many ways to redefine what it means to be a pastor of youth. Here are three major avenues through which you can change the culture of your youth ministry and church.
1. Act Your Age
A few years ago, I was serving as a volunteer leader for a high school fall retreat. After an evening worship gathering, I was talking with a student named Ben. Our conversation turned to the health of the youth program, so I asked him how we (as adult volunteers) could better serve the students. His answer was profound: “We don’t need you to be our friend, we need you to be an adult who leads us well.” Ben was not telling me I was not his friend, nor was he telling me he did not want to be my friend. His point was clear: we don’t need to act like high school students to minister to high school students effectively. We are adults, so we should act like adults! High school students are around their peers all the time. Could it be that students have a deep desire for authentic adult interaction?
By no means does this imply that we cannot have fun. I am as big a fan of games and stupid selfie videos as the next person! But Ben, and many others like him, are simply looking for role models – people they can look up to, who they can go to for advice and a listening ear. Come to think of it, that’s what all of us want.
Ben’s words are extremely freeing. The stereotype can die. We don’t have to be hip, in-the-know, tech-savvy, or a game master to relate. We are just called to be present, as an adult, and act our age.
2. Discuss The Difficult
When I was in high school, my choir program was outstanding. I didn’t understand how Mr. Comley, my choir director, built something so successful until I went to college and realized that many of the songs we had sung in high school were actually collegiate-level songs! Mr. Comley set the bar high through the songs he chose, and our choir stepped up to the challenge because we didn’t know any different! Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” Time and again, I have seen students rise up to the challenges presented to them in different areas of life. Unfortunately, the stereotypical youth pastor shies away from challenging students in the most important aspect of their life: their faith. Scripture is replaced with motivational quotes….hard truth is dolled up or not talked about at all…students walk away feeling good, but the aim has been set too low.
Shallow talk creates shallow faith. Address challenging topics; talk about what’s happening around the world and in the news; be willing to wrestle with tough issues; don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” We’re not supposed to know everything but we are called to challenge students to grow in their faith. Aim high and watch as your students rise up.
3. Partner with parents
As youth pastors, we are not the primary “disciple-ers” of students. We can act our age and delve into as many deep discussions as we are able, but our role in students’ lives will always be secondary to those of parents. So don’t keep parents in the dark! One of the greatest disservices we can do as a youth pastor is to not connect with parents. The stereotypical youth pastor is one who only concerns themselves with the students and could care less what parents do or say. What if we broke that mold? What if we invited parents into our ministry? We are in this “discipling students” thing together!
Think about your own setting for a moment. What communication avenues (snail mail, email, text, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) do parents in your ministry use? Not the students…the parents. How could you use those avenues to connect with them? What are some ways you could invite parents into the conversation? Where could you plug parents into your ministry? Parents are not your enemies, they are your friends! Partner with them.
During Jesus’ ministry on earth, he spent close to 90% of his time with 12 men – men who we now know as the 12 disciples. It is extremely possible that several (if not most) of the disciples were in their teens. If that’s the case, then Jesus was a youth pastor! Of all people, Jesus was the last person to fit into any stereotype, and he seemed to make it his mission to break down barriers everywhere he went. Youth ministry is a beautiful calling and as Christians (“little Jesuses”) it’s time to break the stereotype. It’s time to shatter people’s expectations and reinvent the youth pastor “wheel.” Because you know it and I know it: youth pastors are real pastors.
Dan McPherson is the high school pastor at First Alliance Church in Lexington, KY. He and his wife Hope live in Nicholasville, KY with their dog Tucker. You can connect with Dan on his personal Instagram @danmcpherson101 or catch his awesome selfie videos on @faclexyouth
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.