Change Your Job Description

Originally published December 2003.

Somehow today's youth ministry has become centered around the youth pastor.  Today's youth ministry is not centered on youth and it is not centered on the legal caregivers of youth.  It is centered around the youth pastor.  Need proof?  Who always speaks at most of the youth meetings?  Who always plans the retreats?  Who always attends the retreats?  Who always coaches the small group leaders?  Who goes on all the mission trips?  The answer is, of course, you.  That is why they pay you.  They pay you because you are the gifted speaker, you are the one who knows the teenagers, you are the youth ministry expert.

The unintentional result of this set up is what would happen when you leave?  A lot would change, right?  At the church you are at right now, are you following what the previous youth worker did?

 


The end result really was instead of a youth ministry which focused on youth, it was Brenda ministry which focused on me so I can work with youth--all with good intentions.  I work with youth because I love youth and I believe in them.  I have knowledge I want to dispel.  And I want the youth ministry to be successful.  There are no selfish motives in me. But with the direction youth ministry as a whole is going, this is what it has become.  We've got Brenda ministries, Joe ministries, Barry ministries, etc.  I have a strong feeling that this is not what we intended.

Youth ministry truly did not mean to end up this way. 

I found this quote off of a blog (www.futuremargins.com), "Scripturally speaking, pastor is synonymous with elder, shepherd, bishop, and overseer.  In scripture, pastors always function in a plurality never in a singular sense as in a ‘one man show.'  The functions of a ‘minister' or ‘preacher' are not descriptive of the word pastor.  The pastor system (as a one man show) was suggested and developed by itinerant preachers near the end of the Civil War as an emergency to prop up paltry churches.  Some rejected the idea (pastor as central) calling it "a fungus growth upon the church, dwarfing its growth and preventing the development of its members.'"  (Gospel Advocate, May 20, 1885)." (I have never quoted something from 1885 before, pretty cool.)

It looks like we may have the same sort of fungus growth in youth ministry. Have we purposely caused this fungus?  Of course not.  We have answered the call on our lives.  We have received some education.  We have (hopefully) found a church that matches our vision.  We have loved on teens, experienced success, experienced many failures and never intended to grow something that has centered on us.  Never.  But 50+ years of youth ministry has brought us to this and something needs to change.  We need to change our job descriptions.  As Jim Burns says, we have the right motives but the wrong phone number.  

I challenge you to change your job description, if you can.

Here are some new possibilities.

Teach spiritual habits over and over and over so that when you leave they will know how to keep the faith even when you are gone.  To do that teaching of spiritual habits in every form possible should keep you plenty busy.

Become a resource and developer of means to help parents disciple their own teens. What can you do from your position to help parents raise their own children in the faith?  This area is so overlooked in the church and in the ministry world that you can be busy full-time finding resources and developing resources.  (If you write any of your own, pass them this way to Wild Frontier so we can make them available to others.  Of course, you will get full props.  Please!)

Spend a half a day every week in the waiting area of your juvenile court and/or domestic relations court praying and watching.  The majority of today's teens do deal with the court system one way or another--whether it is their own traffic violations, other violations, a family issue or something that one of their friends did.  Court is a reality of adolescence now.  Your silent prayers in the waiting room will help others.  The perspective you will gain will help you.

Spend a half day volunteering at one of your schools.  This is not meeting with your students for lunch.  (Why oh why do so many youth workers do that and think it is such a great thing when it is the simplest and most self-serving thing).  Volunteering is doing something to help the school--and that something is varied and needed.  From this volunteer position, focus on getting to know the school staff and on how the school ticks.  Overhear teachers talk.  Overhear the office staff talk.  Learn what your youth face every day from your half day there.  The school will be blessed by you physically filling a need.  Your church will be blessed by the recognition of giving someone to help the school.  The perspective you gain will help you tremendously.  And some of your students may see you.  Some.  Some schools are huge but that is okay because you are not doing it to meet your students, you are doing it for the cascading blessings everywhere.

Try this for a new job description.  Be a Kids Hope USA program director.  Kids Hope USA is a church-school mentorship program for elementary students.  Part of the requirements for a church to sign up is to provide a half-time program director on the church staff who trains mentors and prayer partners.  That is you.  And your church can have a wide-reaching and effective ministry into a public school.  It's not a high school (yet) but...

Back in September of 2002, I wrote a Pair of Cleats called "The End of the Era of the Superpersonality Youth Pastor" and I said, "The season has passed where the quality of the youth program or the personality of the youth leader is what draws youth into the kingdom of God. ...For those of us who are veterans in youth ministry this may be a hard change.  We've relied so long in our personality and/or program that our security in ministry may rest in it...For the majority of youth workers who are volunteers, you are not freed from the time pressures you may have felt.  The thoughts you have wrestled with concerning ‘if only I were only on full-time staff or if I only had more time to put in" no longer are of great concern.  Not that you should not still desire to be in full-time youth ministry..."

This issue closed by saying, "While in Bible college, the same youth ministry professor had us praying in class as well as out of class for the youth revival of the ‘90s.  This is what he lived and breathed for beginning in 1984.  This is what I've been believing since 1984.  It is now 1992.  Two years have passed but the groundwork is there.  Revival is beginning.  The laws of the land have given us new keys to the kingdom to reach this generation.  There is new strategy to be planned.  We are in for some exciting years!"  (A quote from 1885 and 1992 in one issue, pretty cool.)

I can't say that there was a national youth revival of the ‘90s like I believed and prayed for.  That is an issue I argue with God about often.  Although I'm sure many churches experienced phenomenal revival in their local ministries.  I can say the stirrings in youth ministry did happen in the ‘90s and have brought us to this point of discontentedness in our youth ministry positions and are moving us on to some exciting new beginnings.  The stirrings are moving us to some new type of youth ministry where teens keep their growing faith into their early twenties and beyond; where youth ministry is not centered on the youth minister; and where parents take back their God-given responsibility.

I recently spoke at a fall retreat where I observed a most intimate time around the campfire that was not the result of what I preached.  It was the result of what these youth had learned over time.  The youth pastor said to me earlier in the day that she was thrilled when an outsider would look into their group and not know who the youth pastor was.  She has built up this great team of parents around her who were doing their part as much as she was and the evidence came out in that campfire.  I got a glimpse of youth ministry.