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Youth Ministry Is Not Just a Stepping Stone

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I once interviewed for two ministry positions at the same time—a youth pastor role and a senior pastor role.

I ended up pursuing the youth position, understanding it as the best fit in that season. When I tell people, I get a variety of responses from a simple “Great!” to “Why don’t you want to be a senior pastor?”

Rooted-General-Banner-2015-300x250.jpgA common misunderstanding about youth pastors is that they’re training for the higher-ranking position of lead pastor. While it’s true many pastors once worked with youth, the two roles are distinct. Senior pastors who’ve previously served as youth pastors can provide encouragement and understanding. They can also channel their experience into unrealistic expectations, perhaps beginning with the refrain, “Back when I was a youth pastor . . .”

The implication of such responses is that the youth pastor role isn’t true ministry; only those who have the title of senior or lead pastor hold that distinction.

All Gifts Equally Valuable

Thankfully, God doesn’t distinguish.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12–27 Paul uses parts of the body to illustrate God’s people needing one another. Each person within the body of Christ is valuable and helps the church function. No part is inadequate or indispensable. While Paul may suggest a difference in role for church members, he makes clear that everyone is needed:

God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:24–27)

Youth pastors should be seen as a valuable part of the body. God places us in a unique position to minister to children, young people, and their families. We’re part of the wider church seeking to serve those in a particular demographic, those with particular questions about faith and unique struggles as they move through adolescence into adulthood.

The youth pastor—especially those who are part of a pastoral team—seeks to fulfill his ministry to students through the same lens as the lead pastor. Their goals are largely the same: to serve, to teach the Scriptures, and to present everyone mature in Christ.

Encourage and Champion

First Timothy 3 outlines the qualifications for all pastoral leaders, which includes (I believe) modern youth pastors. When we view and treat the youth pastor role as a mere stepping stone to senior ministry, we do a disservice to the body of Christ in at least four ways.

1. It minimizes the importance of ministry to young people.

Staff members who have a pastoral role work hard at teaching God’s Word and shepherding those under their care. The youth pastor helps families, recognizing that the primary role of spiritual guidance and teaching belongs to parents. In this age of loneliness and confusion, the importance of having another mature adult walk alongside young people can’t be overstated.

2. It pressures youth pastors to look for the next thing.

The youth pastor in your church already puts immense pressure on himself. Adding expectations about moving up the church ladder doesn’t lower the pressure; it leaves him feeling more insecure about his value and place. Encourage your youth pastor by letting him know you deeply appreciate him and his work.

3. It says youth pastors should only be around for a short time.

It’s been estimated that youth pastors stay about 18 months at a given church. I hope this isn’t true, though anecdotal evidence suggests it is. When a youth pastor is asked questions about eventually becoming a senior pastor, he often falls into the trap of accepting short tenures. How great are the ministries of those who have stayed and faithfully taught the Scriptures, who have rejoiced at conversions and baptisms, and who have participated in marriage ceremonies.

Let’s encourage and champion long-term youth ministry.

4. It fails to appreciate individual gifts for ministry.

As I was interviewing for those two positions, I knew youth ministry was my passion and calling. While being a senior pastor is appealing in certain ways, the issue is one of the heart: Am I seeking a name on the door or a title on a business card? Once we’ve dealt with our own pride and popularity-seeking, there’s still the issue of the gifts and desires a sovereign God has chosen to give. This is something I wrestle with, and no doubt other youth pastors do, too.

The next time you speak with a youth pastor, encourage him in his gifting and calling. He is a vital part of the mission, service, and ministry of Christ’s church.

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