In my last post I floated some things that I was thinking about from my own experiences in youth ministry. One of the major issues was that my primary years in youth ministry I felt ill-equipped to deal with many important things in the lives of teenagers since I, myself, had not yet raised one. I suggested that perhaps we need people in youth ministry with a bit more life experience.
Several people wrote it with their own thoughts on this subject. I wanted to share some important points, I believe, that came out of this conversation.
Finances shouldn’t determine our youth ministry hires. Jeremy suggested that many times churches hire young people for their youth ministry positions because they can’t afford to hire someone more experienced. This is quite a true statement. But he also stated that when churches do this they should expect to provide a great deal of support in other areas. To which, I agree. Unfortunately this has been the place that many churches have been lacking. They hire a young, inexperienced person to be their youth pastor and then hang them out to dry. To reverse this trend the congregation needs to devote more time to helping the youth pastor out with things like leadership, training and education, and even health care. And providing these things is going to equal or be greater than the cost the congregation thought they were initially saving. So, my recommendation is that congregations should not hire a youth pastor until they can either A) afford to pay the person with the experience, skill, and training necessary, or B) afford to hire someone they are willing to invest in beyond the basic salary package.
Youth ministry should be done congregationally. Several who commented hinted at this idea. Many churches hire a youth pastor with the expectation that she/he is going to be the do-all/end-all of youth ministry in the church. They essentially pay the person to work with the teens so they don’t have to do it themselves. Many pastors are glad when a youth pastor is hired so they don’t have to “bother with” that part of the ministry any more. But ask any person who’s been a youth pastor for more than a year and they’ll tell you: this doesn’t work. Youth ministries that are youth-pastor-centered usually wind up with youth pastor burnout and high turnover rates. Teens in these congregations wind up being connected to only one or just a very small few adults in the congregation. Then that person leaves and the teens are completely disconnected from the life of the faith community. Teens need the entire makeup of the church to be a part of their life in the faith so they have adequate support, so they can develop an integrated identity, and so they gain a true role in the community. This means everyone has to have a role. Everyone from the pastor, the elders, deacons, the widowed, young adults, and people with developmental disabilities, ALL have a role in shaping the life and faith of these teens.
Youth pastors need mentors. We all need mentors. I’m a senior pastor and I have a mentor. We all need someone we can look to for guidance, for support, and for prayer. And youth pastors specifically need the help of the senior pastor. Without supportive, prayer-filled, and guiding relationships we’re all on deserted islands starving to death.