It’s not a complete list, but here are some biggies for me.
1. The pressure is to perform — have big events, lots of kids involved in activities and bible studies. I have trained sr. pastors about how to work with their youth leaders and I know they often feel the same pressure to perform. Sometimes the pressure is self-inflicted, sometimes not. Youth pastors feel it, too, and unfortunately it’s the teens who feel the results of it.
2. The adults and parents who pay my salary are looking for a youth ministry like the one they experienced when they were in grade school, even though that was 20-40 years ago. Today youth ministry sometimes means doing very “non-performance” based things, like not coming into the office in order to spend the day with a kid instead, or taking kids deep into the Word as the group shrinks because it’s not solely entertainment anymore. I’m not sure why people think that having kids involved in programs somehow equals spiritual growth. To me, that means we’re just keeping kids busy.
3. Perhaps my biggest frustration is that parents are often not taking ownership of their kids’ spiritual growth. They outsource it to the “experts” (i.e. church youth leaders) expecting us to make their kids grow. I’m not sure how that can be possible, though, when parents are just as spiritually apathetic as their kids, except they hide it at church on Sunday mornings. Their kids, on the other hand, don’t feel as much of a need to put on a church show each week. Then, when they graduate and are finally on their own, they decide that church and a relationship with God isn’t worth their time because they never saw it at home. I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle that cannot be won until parents own up to their own responsibility to grow and model Christ for their kids, and to initiate spiritual conversations with them.
Thankfully, my sr. pastor gives me the freedom to fail, to think outside the box, and to not follow the performance-driven ministry model that leads me to nothing but frustration. Actually, based on my suggestion, all of the pastors in my church meet every week to pray and help me think through some of these youth ministry issues. We went through “Ministry Mutiny” by Greg Stier together, now we’re reading “Youth Ministry 3.0” by Mark Oestreicher, and next we’ll do “Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors” by Mark Riddle. The best part about it is that the entire church is starting to think along the same lines about how we do (and don’t) do ministry. Essentially, it’s not as much about doing something as much as it is about becoming something: a community of believers.
Of course there are many more challenges than what I mentioned above, some of which are discussed in more detail in an old 2006 guest blog series called, “Issues in Youth Ministry: What needs to change?”
What are your toughest challenges in youth ministry?
Posted on May 4, 2009