Seven Years Later: Thoughts on Longevity in Youth Ministry at One Place

Last month marked me being the Middle School Pastor at Church At Charlotte for seven years. I remember hearing a statistic, while studying youth ministry in undergrad, that the average length of tenure in one church for a local youth pastor is 18 months (which ironically is exactly the amount of time I was at the first church I was employed at). Moreover, the average length of time a pastor does youth ministry, regardless of the church is eight years. It’s kind of scary to think that by August I could be considered a youth ministry veteran. There are plenty of factors for why pastors leave youth ministry for “bigger” and “better” things, and plenty of articles written on the matter. Well I would like to give a couple of factors, reasons, and observations I have after doing youth ministry for seven years in one church, and why I hope to do many more right where I am. If you are a youth pastor, aspiring youth pastor, or questioning your calling into youth ministry I hope you find them enlightening and encouraging.

1. It’s Not All Fun and Games… My approach to student ministry is that I’m preparing adolescents for adulthood shaped by Christ. Developmentally as they are transitioning from abstract to concrete thinking they need to be pushed to help encourage that cognitive development. For the most part I approach teaching young teens like I would adults. I imagine this helps curb any desire to do ministry to adults, for feeling unchallenged by teaching in elementary ways.

2. Parents Are Your Greatest Advocates… Parents who have witnessed the positive affect you’ve had on the life of their children become your greatest advocates in the church, especially to young families, even after their children have moved on.

3. Trust and Respect is Key… The quickest way to sabotage the trust of parents and the respect of teens is to try and be one of the student’s friends. You can be their friend later, like when they graduate. In the meanwhile students want to feel safe with you. They feel safe when you look after their safety by having clearly explained boundaries, and steps of discipline that are executed when those boundaries are broken. Students respect you when you’re willing to tell them what they need to hear even if its not what they want to hear. They’re more likely to desire to connect with you as an adult if they respect you as a teen.

4. More Than Just A Pastor to Youth… My youth ministry professor Vince Beresford always used to say, “Your title may say youth pastor but you must know and operate as a pastor to youth and their family.” Becoming more intentional about being a pastor and resource to parents has resulted in some parents seeing me as the primary pastor to their family as a whole. Even by starting this blog and writing posts aimed specifically at parents has resulted in parents seeking my counsel in person more often than ever before.

5. Everybody Knows Your Name… Being intentional about getting involved with some of the other ministries not my own in the church has helped me feel like a part of the life of the church. I’ve taught at Children’s ministry’s VBS and Camp. I’ve been in a Men’s ministry small group. I’ve crashed the Omega’s dinner. I’ve even taken part in a Women’s ministry event. All of those things have given me an opportunity to get to know people who have no connection to the youth ministry.

6. Have Thick Skin… Sometimes being a youth pastor, especially of middle school, means you get treated or at least viewed as being junior varsity. Get over it, and do things in such a way that even if people naturally look down at teenagers they don’t look down on you.

7. The Best Part… The best part of having been at one place for seven years and counting is that all of my former students know where to find me. Moreover, the best part of doing middle school ministry is that even after students move on from your ministry they are still around. Your relationship with them changes, but they know they can still come to you cause you were interested in them at a time in their lives that they were amidst significant change and shrouded in awkwardness.

Conclude

I was fortunate enough to have a youth pastor that did youth ministry for 39 years, the last 21 at one place. The same place that I first started volunteering fourteen years ago. I’m sure his influence has played a large role in me being shaped in such a way that I’ve lasted this long. Hopefully I’ll get to see a few students follow in my footsteps too!

Does This Generation of Teens Have it Harder Than Predecessors?: A Different Take

It has frequently been said that this generation of young American teenage Christians has it tougher than any other generation before them. Between technology redefining what is considered the public arena, thus shrinking what is truly private, the pressure to perform in school, liberal media with more graphic content on TV, music and movies, there are many who have expressed deep concern of what will become of the present generation of teenage Christians. Earlier and earlier teenagers are being exposed and have access to the morally bankrupt aspects, pornography and drugs to name a few, of our culture and society than ever before.

Those of you who follow my blog know by now that I’m not into stirring the pot of fear (I don’t think it accomplishes much of anything productive or constructive). Allow me to offer you a slightly different take on what all the societal and cultural changes in America means for Christian teenagers.

Many of the same factors that make for culture being difficult for current generation also means that this generation has the greatest potential for creating and cultivating good things.

In his book Culture Making Andy Crouch describes how Christian cultural engagement in the United States has typically been relegated to one of four responses; condemn culture, critique culture, copy culture, or consume culture. The main point of his book is to encourage Christians to understand our cultural mandate from God to create and cultivate. The first two tasks that God gives Adam prior to the Fall, is to name the animals (create), and to work and keep the garden (cultivate). The focal point of the glimpse we get of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation is of a city filled with “the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21.26). After which it says that nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false. Unfortunately a disproportionate amount of teaching and guidance to churched teens is to avoid the unclean, detestable and false over and above aspiring to create and cultivate the glory and honor of the nations.

The advancements in technology in the last twenty years alone have yielded a tremendous amount of creative power into most households in America. If you have a smartphone you have more computing power in the palm of your hand than all of NASA had in 1969 when they launched a man to the moon and back. Just a few days ago I saw a news feature on a 13-year-old girl who attempted to send a Hello Kitty doll into space and back using a high-altitude balloon.

Teenagers can now create and conduct their own music and songs using programs like Garageband. They can create and publish short films and movies on Vimeo and YouTube. There are numerous programs for graphic design. They can take and edit professional quality photographs. They can write and publish poetry, prose, and books. Teenagers have greater access to the rest of the world and it’s problems, and they are being given more opportunities to be a part of the solution. And they still have all of the traditional age-old opportunities to create and cultivate, like drawing, painting, building, and gardening.

It would be a shame if a whole generation of Christian teenagers ended up being behind the curve of everyone else because this generation of parents and youth workers were too busy trying to keep them safe instead of encouraging them to create. Imagine all the good and beautiful things they could produce if we spent more time encouraging and participating in their creative endeavors? We should be encouraging them to create and cultivate things that will one day be considered amongst the glory and honor of the nations. The dangers and pitfalls our culture offers to teenagers are not to be overlooked. However, neither is the plethora of creative opportunities it offers them, the likes of which no generation before them has ever seen.