Six or so years into my ten years at St Stephen’s Church, Twickenham, I changed my job title from Youth Worker to Youth Pastor. This was due to us taking on a second youth worker and wanting to distinguish between the roles. Actually, reflecting back I wish I had gone for youth minister instead, but youth pastor was definitely better than youth worker. Why? It may seem like mere wordplay but actually I believe that the Church has employed too many workers and not enough ministers.
The problem is that when a church employs a youth worker they expect them to do the work with young people for them, on their behalf. I know of churches which take the view, ‘we don’t have anyone who wants to reach young people so let’s pay someone to do it for us.’ After all, if you employ someone to be youth worker, you expect them to do the work with the youth. What this does, though, is reinforces the marginalising of young people in the church as they need an outsider to reach out to them.
What we need our youth ministers, who are seen as part of the church’s overall leadership and are brought in as specialists to help engage the wider church with this essential mission work.
So, what does the role of a youth minister look like?
1. Specialist understanding
Youth ministers come with passion, understanding and training in how to best reach out to and disciple young people. They bring the church wisdom and knowledge in how to become a church that welcomes this essential generation.
2. Enables greater ministry
Rather than doing all the youth work themselves, they help the church to be better equipped to serve young people. They bring confidence to the church as they show that it is not that difficult to work with young people, you just need to love them, give them time and demonstrate God’s love to them. As the church grasps this, even more ministry can take place as the youth minister sees further opportunities for growth.
3. Nurtures leadership
The youth minister trains up the church to work with young people and by so doing brings out new leadership talent and gifting amongst the church. They also raise up new young leaders as they equip young people to reach out to their peers. By not doing all the work themselves, they nurture an environment where every member ministry is a norm for a church body.
4. Inspires the wider church
A youth minister comes with a better understanding of youth culture and needs as well as a better knowledge of adolescent development, and so can inspire a church to reach out more effectively and fruitfully. They can inspire the church with what is possible and they bring confidence to people who otherwise might not think even twice about talking to a young person. It is essential that a youth minister gets the chance to speak to the wider church regularly to inspire them and encourage them to get more and more involved.
5. They are not the saviour
Youthworkers were often expected to be superheroes, being able to turn their hand to everything and anything. They were expected to be entertainers, spiritual directors, good at sport, natural people magnets and larger than life characters, in the hope that their personality will be what draws and keeps young people connected with church. Of course, they are not God’s saviour, that’s Jesus, and it is important for the youth worker not to get confused. A youth minister is not so often seen as the hired saviour as they spend more time enabling others to reach out.
Of course, it is not just the Church who fall for the youth worker trap. Often it’s the youth worker themselves. They are often in their early twenties and find communicating with adults difficult. They feel called to work with young people that is why they apply for the job. However, if we are to see our churches’ youth ministry transform, grow and be fruitful we need to be raising up a generation of youth ministers who will speak prophetically to us and guide us in the best ways of bringing youth ministry to the centre of church life, and not leaving it as an optional add-on or annex.
What do you see as the differences between youth worker and youth minister? How have you tried to move a church from one to the other? What ways can youth ministers be more enabling for the church? Please leave a comment below.