For the eight years prior to my current calling I served primarily as a youth pastor. And this was something I took very seriously. I took all of my seminary and undergrad electives in youth and family ministry making sure that I best knew how to do what it was I was supposed to do.
And, for the most part, I think I did well. I did top notch programming. Kids often came to me to discuss things going on in their lives. I watched several kids become committed disciples of Christ. And parents would often come to me to discuss things going on with their kids. And this is where I think I primarily failed, not because of anything I did wrong, per se, but because of something completely out of my control: my age and position in life.
As I write this now I am 31 years old. My years primarily in youth ministry were from the ages of 22-29. And this, I now am beginning to think, is quite likely too young to serve as a youth pastor.
I am the parent of four children, and my oldest is now in the double-digit age category. For over a decade now we have struggled with parenting a child with ADHD. We have labored over the issues of sibling-rivalry, helping kids cope with death, and so much more. And as intense as all of those things have been for me as a parent, I can't believe parents at one time or another came to me for advice and direction in those former years. There are things about kids you just don't know until you've raised them yourself. No one can really be an effective support, in my opinion, to a parent going through the struggles of raising a teenager than someone who has already raised a teenager.
So many youth pastors I know see themselves as "teen experts." They seem to know everything about youth culture. They know the music, the games, the fashion. After all, most of them are still technically youths themselves. But they are not the experts (I was certainly not an expert) because they have not had the experience of raising a teenager.
Many churches think they need to hire a young person in their twenties to be their youth pastor because they can "relate." Sure, there is a close proximity in age and lifestyle when you hire someone that young. But when they do that they don't realize the tradeoff. They're missing out on having someone who has learned lessons the hard way about what gets through to kids and what doesn't. They're sacrificing the ability to have someone who has gone through the pain of loving their own kids through the difficult years and for some reason or another still wanting to work with teens.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't want to totally dismiss the unique gifts of having young people work with teens. There is sort of a natural connection due to age proximity. There is a sort of spontenaity and liveliness that younger people often bring to the table. But that shouldn't be the totality of what we hang our hats on. Kids need adults of all ages to be loving support for them, and especially, I believe, adults who have had to love their kids through the hardest years and still want to do it. Families of teens need someone who has been there, someone who has gone through it, someone who can be an adequate support for them, as well. After all, a youth pastor's calling is not just limited to the teens themselves, but to the whole family, the whole church, the whole of the environment in which kids live.
I know there are probably going to be some young youth pastors who don't like reading this post. I'd like to hear from you, beyond the anger, as to how you believe you can effectively minister to families without the experience of raising your own kids through it. I'd also like to hear from those who agree, as to why you've come to the same conclusion.