You finally get the position of youth pastor, and it does not take long before you hear the dreaded (and quite humbling) question: “When are you going to be a real pastor?” My typical response, at least in my brain, is “That’s funny, I thought all this time I was a real pastor. Didn’t realize I was faking it all this time.” They mean well. It’s not like they are trying to demean your life’s calling by a simple question.
Maybe you haven’t received questions like this before. But there is that underlying belief that youth ministry requires a babysitting degree with the ability to eat large amounts of pizza and plan games that involve Jell-O and shaving cream. Students are shocked and confused when they realize this is your full-time job. Adults may ask what you do all day. I even had a well-meaning visitor that was new to church lingo ask “If that pastor is the senior pastor, does that mean you are the junior pastor?” Have to admit, that one stung a little.
So what are some ways you can prevent such questions and comments? Maybe prevention isn’t possible, but there are ways to shake the sentiment that youth ministry is all fun and games, or is just a bottom step in the ladder of ministry hierarchy.
What do you do all week?
Can youth ministry be a full-time job? Yes? Well, prove it. Each week, come up with a weekly schedule of tasks. Sure, each week is different, but you typically have times for responsibilities like lesson prep time, counseling, administration, school Bible studies, and event planning. Put together a general schedule, and plan out each day of the week. May seem tedious, but each Friday I put together a weekly plan for the following week. So when someone asks “What do you do all week?”…I’m glad they asked.
Show up on time. Respond quickly to parental concerns. Come up with calendars of events months in advance. Cancel events or programs on rare occasions. Trust is very much like a mortgage. You are building equity. Don’t act like it’s a rental, and it’s not your problem.
Look the Part.
Not trying to be legalistic here and declare a certain look, hairstyle, or clothing preference as more holy than another. But what I am saying is to practice good hygiene and dress sharp, especially on Sunday mornings. If your shirt has Cheetos stains from 2 weeks ago, your hair could qualify as a science experiment, or brushing your teeth is an optional activity…you are not doing yourself any favors in garnering respect from your church members.
All in the Family.
Start treating youth ministry more like family ministry. Two words: Pair and Rents. Minister to students AND parents. A novel idea, I know, but when you begin to equip and encourage parents through meetings, seminars, culture updates, and counseling…the “junior pastor” label will become further and further in your rear view mirror. Parents of teens need more allies, and you being one will only shake the common youth pastor labels.
Sure, your time is limited. But find ways you can be involved in adult ministry. It could be you preach a service a few times a year. You make it a priority to join a Bible study or small group with other adults. Build relationships outside of the student ministry. This will not only benefit you spiritually, but will garner a new perspective from other adults in the church.
Why so serious?
Don’t take yourself so seriously. The questions will come, the comments will be said, and the jokes will be shared. Go ahead and laugh. In reality, it is pretty funny what people think. But don’t get offended. Most often, these are well-meaning brothers and sisters. So educate them. Have a conversation about your life’s call. Who knows, you may gain someone on your support team, or even someone that wants to volunteer in junior…I mean…youth ministry.
When are you going to become a real pastor? You already are. Keep up the good work. What you are doing matters. You are making a real difference in one of the most impressionable times in a young person’s life. Keep serving in this REAL ministry we call youth ministry.
Jeff serves as a Youth & Family Pastor in Columbus, Ohio. He recently authored a teen and young adult devotional called Bottom Line Devotional (www.bottomlinedevotional.com). His blog www.JeffBeckley.org serves as a tool and resource for youth ministries across the globe.