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Nov 11

Youth ministers are church leaders

I think youth ministers are incredible. They have given up the opportunities of regular work to invest completely in seeing the younger generation come to know God and to grow in that relationship. So it is always disappointing to hear statistics surrounding youth ministry. You know the ones. They say things like the average length of stay in a youth ministry post is only 18 months. How can there be much lasting fruit from such a short position? We need to see youth ministers in post for much longer than that if we are to see the next generation reached properly. The best way we can do this is by treating youth ministers as church leaders, not as paid youth volunteers.

 I have lost count of the times well-meaning people have approached me and asked when I will get ordained, as if leading a church of the adults is the next logical career progression for a youth minister. I heard of one children’s worker who was asked by a member of their church if they were going to take on the role of youth minister as the current leader was leaving. What a strange understanding of ministry, that we should start with toddlers and work our way up the age groups as we grow in experience!

The fear is, for me, that these seemingly irrelevant conversations all serve to breed dissatisfaction in the youth minister. A fear that they are not significant, that they need to grow up, get a proper job and do something more permanent.

We need to see youth ministry as a calling in itself, with its unique gifts and skills requirement and to see it as part of the missional work of the church, in the way that we bless and pray for those who are called to overseas mission activity.

The best way we can do this is by treating the youth minister as a church leader and part of the key leadership team of the local church. These are some of the differences it will make:

 1. It enables more people to invest in the young people

If we think that the youth minister should just work with young people we miss a vital, massive part of their role. The youth minister is a specialist in reaching out to young people so we should use this specialism to enable and equip the rest of the church to reach out to them. They have the knowledge and experience to help create more adults as role models for the young people so that the teenagers grow up having lots of people they can look to as to how to survive life as a Christian. Let the youth minister teach the adults, preach in services and equip parents too.

2. It closes the gap between the young people and the rest of the church

By having the youth minister as one of the church’s leaders, it gives more voice to the young people as they feel they have someone who understands them involved in leading the church. It means that their thoughts, concerns and ideas can have more influence on where the church heads. It also brings the adults closer to the young people as they hear more about what’s going on with them and creates more opportunities for integration.

3. It roots the youth minister more into the local church

When they are involved in key leadership discussions and decisions, the youth minister will grow in love and commitment to that particular church. They will see themselves less as a paid staff member and more as a committed leader to the church. This builds up their self-esteem, confidence and will encourage them to step out more for God in all that he is asking them to do. It will also help the youth minister connect better with adults in the church and understand the different issues and challenges that the church might face. This, in turn, will impact the youth ministry and see those young people perhaps being part of solutions not problems.

4. it builds a more sustainable future

When people are given proper respect, invested in well and given room to lead in a way they believe God is calling them to, then the leader starts to thrive in their role. Christian leadership can often be tough and youth ministers can often feel undervalued, underpaid and under trod. By treating them as a church leader many of these problems and insecurities are demolished and the whole church can see the benefit. It will also mean that the youth minister has more love for the church, greater connection and, therefore, is more likely to stick with the church even through the tough times and not be so tempted to move on too soon.

 

We need youth ministers to stay rooted in a local church for longer. My experience is that the longer you stay in one church, the more God uses you. Certainly, when I was youth pastor in Twickenham for 10 years, the second five years were by far the most fruitful. Let’s encourage our youth ministers to keep going!