“Today’s youth pastors are the laziest bunch of people I’ve ever met.”
Disagree with it if you want. I didn’t say it, and it wasn’t an all-inclusive statement. I know plenty of hardworking and even over-worked youth workers. This comment was said by my friend in a moment of frustration.
But…was there some truth to it?
I heard the comment a couple weeks ago when I was having lunch with a close friend, a 20+year youth ministry veteran. A school principal had just called him up and pleaded with him, “Help! I need workers!”
How many of us get that opportunity? (Yeah, that’s a whole nother article.)
My friend was scrambling to try to mobilize some volunteers for this incredible ministry opportunity. Here was a school that was looking for mentors and tutors, and was providing an open door to come on campus and hang out with kids. My friend was already doing this; you’d think that other youth pastors would have jumped at this opportunity too, right?
He called 5 different area youth pastors (who had students in that particular school) and asked them if they’d like to be involved in some way: come on campus once a week, hang out with kids at an on-campus after school hangout with ping pong tables, air hockey, etc., or help mobilize volunteers to tutor kids after school.
Not one youth pastor responded.
I pushed back a little bit at my friend’s skepticism. “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean they’re lazy just because they didn’t respond to this particular ministry opportunity. We can’t jump on everything that comes through our door.”
My friend didn’t even respond to my statement, he just laughed and said, “Here’s the typical youth pastor in our network. He prepares a lesson for Sunday morning and Wednesday night. Then he sits in his office for about 20 hours a week doing homework for his seminary classes which the church allows him to take. He occasionally hangs with a couple church kids… but has no contact with any teenager who doesn’t walk through the threshold of the church door. If he is asked to take on more projects, he’ll respond with some bull about having family boundaries, when in fact, the guy works 37 hours a week, tops, including seminary!”
Wow! What an indictment.
But is there any truth to it?
If there weren’t, then how come right now I know 5 churches that are looking to hire a youth pastor… and I don’t have one name to give them?
I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but at the same time, I’m a little bummed that there would be even a handful of youth workers displaying the above work ethic in a world where some people are projecting that the full time youth worker is soon to be extinct. Let me say it another way. “Hey youth pastors! Our jobs are in danger! Churches are cutting budgets and beginning to throw out the chaff. Don’t be the chaff!”
So what do we do about this?
I’ll be honest. This article isn’t written to those lazy youth workers (they aren’t reading it anyway, they’re still in bed, propped up on two pillows, playing x-box live right now). This article is written to you youth workers who want to make a lasting impact and are willing to pay the price.
Three important truths we must remember.
Be Committed to Your Calling
A youth pastor isn’t a job—it’s a calling. Just ask any of the tens of thousands of volunteer youth workers around this country (and world) who are working 5, 10, or 20+ hours a week…for free! Why? Because of a passion inside of them. Because they love young people and want to make an eternal impact.
When youth ministry becomes a paycheck… quit, and get a job at Kinkos.
Yes, youth workers need boundaries so they don’t neglect their own spouse and kids, but part of our calling as a mere follower of Christ is to respond to opportunities that the Spirit lies in our lap. This is a calling. There will be weddings, funerals, midnight phone calls and homeless kids that need a place to stay on a random evening. Are we ready for this?
This last month I was almost rushed to surgery because I developed a severe eye infection as a result of an infected stitch in my cornea transplant (long story). Two doctors met me every day for 8 days straight. One of them came in while sick (wearing sweats), the other came in on several of her days off, including Saturday and Sunday. Why? My eye needed care right then.
If a doctor is that dedicated to their job… how much more should we be dedicated to our calling?
Do What You Freaking Say You’re Gonna Do!
Simply put: many youth workers are flaky. Some even find the stigma amusing—showing up late, being unprepared. It’s all a big joke. I was at a church where the parents all jested about the youth pastor’s time scheduling skills, they called it “Jim” time.
“I thought we were going to leave for camp at 9AM sharp? We’ve been standing here in the parking lot for 2 hours.”
“He meant 9AM Jim-time.”
Working with teenagers doesn’t require us to discard qualities like professionalism, responsibility, and, dare I say, integrity? Let me assure you, as a parent of three teenagers, I am very selective of who I entrust my own three kids to. Show me a lack of responsibility…then sorry, but you can’t have my kid for the weekend.
The concept is simple… and scriptural. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. If you say you’re going to meet the pastor at 11:30, then be there at 11:30. If you tell a parent you’ll call them that night, then call them that night. If you tell a kid that you’re going to be at his game, then be at his game.
We need to keep our word… even when it hurts (Psalm 15:4)
Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing… or stop doing it.
I sent this article to a bunch of youth ministry veterans for feedback before its release. One of my buddies commented, “Laziness isn’t the problem for many youth workers, it’s the fact that they’re working on the wrong things!”
My friend mentioned at the beginning of this article couldn’t get even one of five youth workers to venture outside the church walls to visit the local campus. Why is this? Is it because they’re lazy? Or might it be because they’re focused on the wrong tasks?
“Why do you do Wednesday nights?”
“Uh… because when I was hired… we were told to do Wednesday nights?”
No wonder ‘programming’ is getting such a bad name. We need to stop simply running program, and begin striving toward our mission! Imagine the impact if every youth worker threw out all existing paradigms and just asked themselves, “How can I reach out to kids that don’t know Jesus?” and “How can I help believers grow in their faith in Jesus and serve Him?”
I’m not saying kill Wednesday nights, but you better know for sure why you’re doing Wednesday nights. I hope that the answer would be one of those two elements just mentioned: OUTREACH or SPIRTIUAL GROWTH.
<p> If our youth ministry “job” is just a list of activities and programs, then our ministry is impotent. Let me be very clear. I don’t think that churches should eliminate the youth pastor position. I think churches should only recruit youth workers who are purposeful to do whatever it takes to do OUTREACH and SPIRITUAL GROWTH. This youth worker (whether volunteer or paid) would be constantly looking for opportunities to connect with different types of kids with different spiritual temperatures. This youth worker would jump at the opportunity to go on campus and hang out with kids that don’t go to church. Similarly, this youth worker would also help believers grow in their faith through one on one discipleship, Bible studies, service opportunities, and worship experiences. These aren’t mere ‘programs’; these are venues that achieve a purpose. In addition, this youth worker would want to be constantly developing others to help her reach the lost, and help believers grow. A youth pastor’s job isn’t to do it alone, it’s to equip the whole church to do youth ministry.
And yes, this youth worker might even go to seminary in addition to her time spent as a youth worker, pulling some late nights studying and going to class, just like every plumber, welder and nurse who works full time and goes to school on top of that.
I’d love for my friend to be wrong about today’s “lazy” youth pastor.
I’d love to have a list of names of men and women who not only have a calling to work with youth, but are ready to work purposely toward introducing young people to Christ and helping them grow.
Are you on that list?
If you liked this article from Jonathan, you’ll love his books, Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and his brand new 4 Session DVD curriculum coming out this May, Real Conversations: Sharing Your Faith Without Being Pushy