I’m not sure what is spurring this thought from me at the moment, as my husband seems to be in a dry spell of comments on “when is he going to seminary”, “how long he thinks he can do this”, or “when does he think he will have his own congregation”. I’m often lost in my own thoughts retroactively, especially when it comes to ministry, and where I fit within that world.
Here’s my question.
“What if we didn’t treat youth ministry as a step up the ministry ladder?”
Often, our youth ministry leaders are seen as called, but inexperienced. I’ve seen it over and over again. Their jobs are to make a safe hangout place, give parents a break a couple times a week, play, and create simple lesson plans. Right? Like, glorified babysitters, an entry-level position…right? We can get someone out of college, pay them as such, and they can keep our kids busy. I think maybe that’s how that goes.
Would you ask your child’s second grade teacher when she was thinking she might go get her Master’s degree and teach college level English? And contrary to some schools of thought, your child’s teacher is not a glorified babysitter either…just so that’s out there.
I digress, but think back to when you were in highschool, or even junior high. If you were like me, you were confused, emotional, hormonal, and trying to figure out what you’re about, how you relate to the world around you, and what the point of all of it is in the first place. Last time I checked, religion wasn’t something that adds to the “coolness factor”, and especially not the “fitting in factor”, and being a Christian in our schools today complicates and can lower opportunities. It certainly wasn’t something I was in seek of information for, or sat up late at night discussing with a friend. That just gets you shoved in a trashcan or ignored entirely. Why would a teen care to be part of that business…that sounds like nothing but a recipe for a sadder and more confused high school experience. Better to not try that Bible stuff. And if they do go to the Bible stuff, there’s no way they’re inviting their friends to sit there and just talk about the Bible. Adults have a hard enough time signing up for a seminar or Bible study. Why are we thinking our kids are going to be in love with having to do it every week and use their occasional weekends for it, plus invite their friends to that snooze-fest to grow the group and congregation? Right.
For me, youth group was the one place I belonged. The bullies didn’t exist there, and I was fortunate enough to have leaders that invested in me-not only on a consistent basis, but they still check in on occasion-and I’m 30! When I was coming out of a very dark time of my life in my mid-20’s, one of them asked me out on a coffee date to catch up-and she actually listened to me. From youth group, I had a group of friends that would stand up for me and Jesus in public, because we were all Jesus-freaks together. I couldn’t wait for the next youth event where I could be safe and escape the week and breathe for a minute.
Maybe, if we stopped thinking youth ministry was just a step, maybe our kids would have a consistent person in their lives for longer than the average of a year and a half before they get a new leader. Maybe, if we supported our youth people, they wouldn’t burn out and search for greener grass, and would see the ideas they started through the average of three years it takes to see results. Maybe, just maybe, we would have kids that love going to church, past confirmation, and past graduation. Maybe, they would seek out a church for their young family, and want to check into their home church, or even stay there! Maybe, we could stop thinking of our youth pastors as just or only the youth pastor. Like they have their training wheels on.
It’s a fact that families seek out and stay in churches with exciting, Bible-based kid’s programs. It’s constantly one of the top five reasons, no matter what survey you look at! Parents go where their kids want to go, where they are excited to go. In our modern families, kids dictate where they go and how often they attend! If you have kids, why do you go to your church? Why do your friends go to the church they attend? If you or your friends don’t go, why? Or, if you are seeking, what are you looking for? I guarantee you, most of the answers you hear will have to do with our kids. Who do you think creates the material? Your child’s excitement and conversation when you pick them up? Who is inspiring your child about their faith, other than you? (Newsflash: it’s not only up to them to teach and save our kids.)
Maybe, when a church has a passionate youth person, they would notice the fire that’s been lit in their kids and strive to outdo them so as to lead by example, instead of half-heartedly following their lead. Perhaps a youth person actively challenging a church’s youth has a trickle effect to the entire congregation. How do you think that would affect our communities? Besides, aren’t our youth and young families the future of our churches? They are literally the next generation of our churches.
My husband happens to run all of the programs for every child age up through young families at our church. Talk about versatility. And guess what? He’s IN LOVE with his job. He has no vision of moving on to “bigger and better things” in at least the next decade, because he seems to think that our kids ARE the bigger and better things. He spends his day wracking his brain to try to figure out how to light a certain kid on fire for Jesus and keep them engaged. He goes to their games and concerts in addition to his office hours, and their faces light up every time when they see him in the crowd, caring for their interests and therefore them as an actual person, not just a number or a tool to grow the church. In a generation where consistency is lacking and any information is in the palm of their hand and the entire world is constantly vying for their attention – why doesn’t it make sense to support our youth ministry people, the people we’ve hired to teach our kids God’s grace, in THE time when they are questioning God and His relevancy in their lives? Since when were the middle-aged and older generations where it’s at in a church? They make the decisions, sure…but the the church that has a passion-filled youth group is the church that is not only surviving, but thriving.
We forget that we have a precious and valuable group of people that in just a short time with choose to either life for, or live without God.
I understand the whole time and experience thing. I get it, human resources is one of my passions, so believe me, I get it. However, it isn’t the easiest thing to even hang out with someone else’s kids, let alone create excitement to be there, learning, while attending to vastly different attention spans and spiritual maturity. Plus, it’s not easy to be called by the same God to do the same sort of work as someone in their 50’s, much less on the aforementioned less time and experience.
But maybe if we stopped treating youth ministry as just a step up the ladder of ministry success, our youth leaders would too.
Maybe there would be less turnover, and more consistency in our youths’ lives, and more people unashamed to be on fire for Christ, in a world where that’s a very radical idea….in a world where everything is battling for our student’s attention in the palm of their hand and they’re internally battling where God fits in their chaos.
Our youth leaders need our support. Burnout in this profession is incredible…an average of a year and half!!! When kids might just be starting to trust them, they move on. Just like so many other things in their lives.
- Send your church’s youth leader a card or quick letter, thanking them for being awesome! (My husband keeps them for those challenging days.)
- Ask to chaperone a special event or be on a weekly youth group rotation as a leader.
- Our kids light up when they have a leader that isn’t one of their parents. I’ve often heard comments about how they think it’s awesome a person without kids in the group still cares about them enough to spend time with them.
- Ask your youth leader if there’s any specific ways you can pray for your church’s youth.
- Collaborate with your youth leader on a fun, fresh, and engaging event idea.
- Enthusiastically support students’ fundraising efforts.
- Ask a student what is going on in their life, and actually listen.
I would love to hear any kind of experience you might have with this. Or, share how you encouraged your child’s youth leader, teacher, nurse, etc.