Monday, May 07, 2012

A Word about Youth and Youth Pastors

On average, about once every six weeks a youth pastor comes into my office and threatens to quit his job.  Now, I oversee missions for roughly 60 churches, and very few of these guys actually follow through with their threats, so thankfully most of these meetings end up simply being a "venting session" for a guy who might otherwise try to find his jugular with a fork.

Here's the thing:  Most of the time, it isn't the youth who frustrate him. Its their parents!

The Scriptures from both Old and New Testaments put the responsibility for a child's spiritual development primarily in the hands of his or her parents.  And many parents who take their kids to church demonstrate by their ambivilance that they don't take that calling seriously.  The result is a youth pastor's worst nightmare.

In light of all this, I thought you should know what kind of counsel THIS denominational leader gives to these guys and gals who are too often simply treated like glorified babysitters:

1. I tell them to invest in the minority.  The conversation usually goes like this.  THEM:  "Youth ministry is driving me crazy.  I don't feel like I'm able to get them to grow spiritually at all, and too many times their parents seem to actually be working against me by putting academics or athletics before their teenager's spiritual development."  ME:  "Do you have at least 10% of the total number of that group who are actually growing and want to continue to grow?"  THEM: "Oh yeah, I think I have more than that actually."  ME:"  Well then, spend 10% of your time with the 90% of slackers so that you don't lose your job, but invest 90% of your time in those who are worthy of your investment."

Yep, you just heard me say that I advise youth pastors all the time to essentially dump 90% of their youth group and invest in the 10% who actually care about moving closer to Jesus.  Why would I do that?  For one thing, its what both Jesus and Paul command.  Jesus warns us "Do not give dogs what is sacred, and do not throw your pearls to pigs."  (Matthew 7:6)  Bottom line:  You have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of resources to invest in people, and Jesus is going to hold you responsible for how you steward those investments.  Paul likewise commanded Timothy to "entrust to faithful men, who will be able to pass them on to others."  This doesn't mean that a youth pastor should totally ignore or "write off" teenagers who are unfaithful, or whose commitment to Jesus remains in a constant state of vacillation.  It does mean that the lion's share of investment should be in those who exhibit a genuine desire for growth.  So if you are a parent who uses your church's youth ministry as a "backup plan" when there are no standardize tests to study for or county sports leagues in which to play, don't be offended when the youth leader politely but clearly limits the amount of time and effort he or she puts into your child.

2. I tell them to challenge the parents.  Too many parents want authority without responsibility when it comes to the spiritual development of their kids.  Mom and Dad, when your child sees you skip church at the drop of a hat, rarely open your Bible, and utter prefabricated prayers at the dinner table, you shouldn't expect that they will catch a better spirituality from a youth pastor.

Honestly, I've seen this same ridiculous phenomenon in our public school system.  My kids have some fantastic teachers and counselors who all too often have to deal with parents who put higher expectations on the school system than they do themselves.  Essentially, they bring their child to the school counselor and say "fix her," or "straighten him out."  But when a teacher has had that child for 16 weeks, and you Mom  and Dad have had that same child for 16 years, the blame for their behavior can hardly be laid at the feet of the teacher.  The same is true of youth pastors.  If teenagers don't see a love for Jesus at home, it is highly unlikely they will choose to emulate their youth pastor rather than Mom and Dad.  So when your youth leaders challenge you in your responsibility as a parent, don't retch in offence because you are being "called out."  Instead, you need to repent, and model for your teenager what it means to walk the narrow road.

3. I tell them to focus on faithful families.  Ultimately, it isn't (or shouldn't) be the job of the youth pastor to develop spiritually mature teenagers.  Instead, it is his/her job to better equip moms and dads to deal with their kids during this tumultuous time in his or her development.  Youth Pastors can be great partners with parents in keeping a kid on the straight and narrow.  They can give guidance to parents about this developmental stage of life, and they can also get in a kid's face and defend the authority of Mom and Dad.  But that partnership is a two-way street.

Youth pastors can be a most valuable resource to the church, and to the parents who are part of that church.  Unfortunately, too many of them are overworked, under-appreciated, and frustrated to the point of quitting. In the end, I don't think this is because the church expects too much from youth pastors, but I do believe it is because many churches expect the wrong things.  Parents, know what to rightfully expect from the youth ministry at your church, and know what should be expected of you as well.  One day in the distant future, when you don't seem nearly as stupid as you do now, your teenager will thank you for it!


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