Navigating the church system (1 of 5): Youth workers need help

Youth leaders need help! Most of us are just normal people who love kids and want to see lives changed for Christ, but that often means we have to get caught up in a church system that’s extremely political, confusing, demanding, stressful and sometimes even detrimental to the life-change we seek. When we, as youth workers, are fired, very rarely is it because we’re accused of being apathetic toward kids or mishandling the Word of God. Rather, it’s usually because of personal conflicts and ministry values that aren’t aligned with the church or the Sr. Pastor. We love kids, want to reach them for Christ and wish we didn’t have to deal with all the junk many churches throw at us. This week’s series won’t solve all our issues, but it will help us understand a little bit about how the church system works and how we can avoid the common pitfalls that short-circuit our dreams of life-long service in youth ministry.

Two views of youth ministry
Many youth workers have a speed bump approach to student ministry. We know we are called to youth ministry and we focus so intently on it that anything else along the way feels like a road bump. We hit the road bump and keep going except we’re a little more annoyed on the other side of the bump than we were before we hit it: committee meetings, board meetings, parents, paperwork, reports, etc.

Many churches have a light bulb approach to student ministry. To them, youth ministry is simply buying a light bulb from the youth ministry rack. The rack used to be empty, but now it’s filled with people from Bible colleges and seminaries. Every church wants a flood light youth minister, not a small 100 watt bulb. Eventually the bulb burns out, the church throws it away and buys another bulb until it also starts to flicker.

Youth workers need help:

  • Our focus is on students, not church systems.
  • We sometimes don’t stay focused on a task from start to finish.
  • We often take on too much, making us look even more unorganized because we say YES to way too much.
  • We are more people oriented than task oriented.
  • We are cool, which is a problem for a lot of established churches. We are the edge. We’re the innovators. We prompt change and challenge the status quo.
  • We often don’t follow through on menial tasks, such as cleaning the church van after a trip.
  • We feel pressure from a variety of sources. There’s a lot of different expectations placed on us by a lot of different people and too often those expectations conflict! (“Get out of the office and hang with kids.” “Get in your office and return those phone calls.”)
  • We often lack a clear vision. We tend to love kids and love Jesus and think that’s enough, but it’s not. Vagueness is killing the church: vague gospel, vague vision, vague direction, and we have no sense of when we get somewhere.)

Read the rest of the series:
Navigating the church system (2 of 5): Leadership tensions
Navigating the church system (3 of 5): Why churches change slowly
Navigating the church system (4 of 5): Understanding the adoption curve
Navigating the church system (5 of 5): Common mistakes by youth pastors

The above material is based on Tiger McLuen’s seminar, “Surviving as a youth worker in an imperfect church.” Used and edited with permission. Thanks, Tiger!

Posted on January 28, 2008

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