Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    Should You Really Be a Youth Minister?

    I linked to this post earlier at Stupid Church People that really aims some sharp criticism at youth ministry and youth ministers in general. The post itself is a good read but equally interesting are the comments others have posted. Here's the main thrust of the post:

    I have written how the church needs to trust young adults to lead it if it wants to remain relevant... however, I no longer think that the training ground for this should be youth ministry. We have it all backwards. We let the young lead the young and this is where young pastors develop this sense of ego and entitlement that they bring with them into "big church". It's a psycho-social phenomenon that needs to be studied. I think it's both harmful to the students and to those young leaders that lead them.People complain that I am long on observations and short on suggestions. So here's one: If your church has a youth pastor under the age of 30, promote them immediately into either adult ministry or children's ministry. Then, go out and hire a 30-something youth pastor (preferably a woman), and be prepared to pay them well so they will stick around.

    I've commented here before on my thoughts about young people being youth ministers (I myself started at the age of 23). There are pros and cons to it, but after having read the responses to the comments at the Stupid Church People post above, I'm more inclined to say that it is less the age of the person than their motivation for doing youth ministry that makes the difference. How often is a young person serving as youth minister in a church because 1) She/he is still in seminary and no one trusts them to do anything else, 2) She/he will work for little pay or for free, 3) She/he has no idea what they want to do for a career and the youth ministry job gives them something to do while they decide, 4) She/he is biding his/her time until they are allowed to do "real" ministry somewhere with adults?

    Ultimately, the issue here isn't the age of the person. Many young people are fine youth ministers. The question rather should be "Is this person truly called to youth ministry? Is this the place they will be most effective in the church?" How can you tell the difference between a youth minister who is just biding his or her time and the one really called to youth ministry? Simple: Check in on them in 10 years and see if they are still in youth ministry. The ones truly called to work with youth can't help but keep doing it, in spite of low salaries, missed opportunities, and being forever "low" on the church staff totem pole.



    Steve said...

    Good words Brian... we could debate some of the things you have mentioned, but they probably aren't the crux of the issue really. What you say is generally true, even from my personal experience. If you do read the comments and read where I elaborated, you will know I don't have anything against young youth ministers or youth ministry at all... I just think that churches and senior pastors are lazy.

    I was in youth ministry in some form or fashion from the age of 18-36. I think I did a decent job, but I think I made a ton of youthful mistakes from 18-24 that could have been diverted had I not been put in such a heavy position at such an early age. Again, there is a social-psychological dynamic and maturity level that needs to be developed I think to be a competent counselor to young people... and most young adults are still working through their own issues and faith development. It can all be very tenuous.

    From around 28 on I think I did my best work as I came into my own on so many levels.

    I always heard that when you can do something else other than ministry you should get out. Around the age of 33 or so, I felt that process beginning to happen. I loved youth ministry and had no ddesire to do anything else within the church. I also didn't want to just do it for a job... I think it has to be more than that since it is soooo important. So at the age of 36 I took the step out of ministry and moved on to the rest of my life... which was the best decision for me.

    Brian said...

    Steve, Good to hear from you. I would add that youth ministers under the age of 25 (or perhaps even 30) have some pretty unique challenges because they are attempting to be mentor to youth who are just a few years their junior. Anyone under the age of 25 working with teens definitely needs a close-at-hand supervisor, plenty of training in boundary-keeping, and lots of older adults helping them to mentor the youth. And I'll be the first to admit that, though I did my best when when I was an early 20-something youth minister, I made a lot of mistakes due to a lack of perspective. I hope I'm a little better at it now at the age of 41!

    clown4christ said...

    I am currently pursuing a career in youth ministry and I am struggling with this exact issue. I was not ready for youth minitry right out of high school and I knew this. I am now 31 years old, married and have two kids with one on the way. Unfortunately, churches want to offer a salary that can only support a single person or someone without a family. My wife and I feel called to have her stay home with our kids (who are 1 and 3) and we make sacrifices for this. I get frustrated when senior pastors (no kids in the home) who have a parsonage and a $40-$60 thousand dollar salary tell me I should step out in faith as they offer me $30,000 with no benefits or benefits for me but not my family. I certainly don't expect to get rich, but I get frustrated when churches try to "sweeten" their package by offering me information about food stamps, WIC and state health care.