The three essentials of a youth pastor’s job

If we’re not careful, a youth pastor’s job description becomes very bloated very quickly, not just with all the stated expectations, but with all the unstated ones, too. Before we know it, we’re juggling so many balls we’re doing nothing but stressing out and ignoring what it is that God actually put us in youth ministry to do in the first place. Most of us seriously need to step back, take a deep breath, and figure out what it is we’re spending all our time on that is truly important and necessary for the ministry that no one else can do but us.

For me, the responsibilities boil down to three areas:

1. Relationships
No one else can build relationships for me. That is something only I can do and something I must do for the sake of effective ministry. That includes relationships with students, with parents, other staff members, school teachers, coaches, youth workers at other local churches, my family and most importantly, with God.

2. Solid Bible Teaching
I went through four years of Bible college and three years of seminary for primarily one reason: to know how to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and to learn how to effectively communicate it with others (Ezra 7:10). There’s no one else in our youth ministry who has that kind of training to take teenagers deep into the Word of God, not just to put a different twist on the same basic Bible stories they’ve heard since first grade, but to provide deep spiritual nourishment that the Holy Spirit uses to move them from spiritual milk to solid food (Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:2). I take lesson prep and delivery very seriously. What a tremendous responsibility and privilege (James 3:1).

3. Training Adult Leaders
As the resident “expert” on youth ministry, no one else can provide the training for adult youth workers that I can. Ministry to kids increases exponentially when I can multiply myself into other mature and passionate adults by training them to be effective in their relationships with teens. I can only reach a limited number of teenagers by myself, but together we can reach our entire community as I lead us.

That’s how I spend and prioritize my time. Anything that doesn’t fall into one of these three categories can typically be done by anyone else. I feel no need to organize events, make schedules, or design newsletters when anyone else can do it just as easily (and probably better) than I can. That’s why almost all of the major events in my church’s youth ministry are led and organized by adult youth workers. I don’t even coordinate most of our weekly meetings. If no one steps up to lead the fund raiser, for example, it just doesn’t happen — that’s all there is to it.

I have the privilege of just showing up to youth meetings, building relationships and teaching God’s Word alongside of leaders who are well-trained. That’s the way a body is supposed to function anyway.

Posted on May 20, 2008

  • Thanks Tim! I really appreciate this article today. I’ve been thinking alot this week about this very subject: What is it specifically that I SHOULD be doing and what I SHOULD NOT be doing? I might adopt this as my own personal mission statement…I know that these three areas are definitely passions of mine as well.

  • Good post. And I really liked that “rightly handling the Word of Truth” was one of the big three.

    Quick Question:
    How do you get volunteers from a pool(church) that is maxed out on other ministries and are unable to see others who are attracted to youth ministry?
    * Our church leadership believes that we do not advertise needs for volunteers but that we develop them through relationships – which I got to say is pretty hard when I am relationship building with teenagers and super-busy moms and dads who don’t have time to turn around let alone volunteer with youth.

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  • @ Brian: It’s pretty simple — you don’t. I agree that leaders should be established through relationships (either by me or another trusted youth worker in our ministry) and that you should never recruit from a stage. But the reality is, if there’s no one stepping up to lead what your idea of ministry looks like, then you change your idea of what the ministry should look like. God provides the leaders He deems necessary for the ministry to run the way it should. If you don’t have the leaders for what you want to do, then perhaps you’re trying to fit your square peg into God’s round circle.

    Personally, if there aren’t leaders to lead something, we just don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

    Don’t give into doing something just because “that’s what church youth groups do” or because you’re the youth pastor and feel like it should be your job. Just because you’re paid by the church doesn’t mean that you become everyone else’s excuse for not serving the body. In fact, it’s your job to HELP them serve the body as growing believers.

  • @Tim – Thanks.
    This is my first year at this church. We had a lot of our youth leadership (adults) bail once they hired me. It was more like they felt they had sustained the youth ministry just long enough to hire a full timer and then they punched out. I realize some of them were ready to move on to other things and some of them even left our church all together (not related to me coming). So, maybe I am putting too many expectations upon myself (that is not there from the church leadership) but I feel like one of my jobs is encouraging volunteers for our youth ministry. We are a small rag tag group but I believe in healthy ministry and for me healthy ministry is not me going alone. My wife is my best volunteer. I agree with you whole heartedly about on the volunteers are built in relationships and with the we don’t do it if we don’t have a leader. I guess, I just don’t want to be the lone ranger and I am having a hard time finding someone to impart my vision with. I am not a program driven yp. My default is relationships, but I feel like I may be letting people down as we enter into year two, with poorly crafted Sunday Night Youth Gatherings and thrown together Small groups. Part of it is that I may need to step back and get a plan. It just seems that everything is moving on Hyperdrive and I am in an AT-AT on Hoth. Do you know what I mean? How do I hit the reset button when everything is moving?

  • @ Brian: The two natural transition times for people are January 1 and the beginning of the school year, so get a plan and “reset” at one of those two times (beginning of the school year might be better). I’d recommend slowing down everything this summer just to pray, meditate on the Word, and seek the Lord’s vision for your ministry this fall. Remember: it is always better to do few things well than lots of things mediocre.

    Some ideas for slowing things down for the “reset” might be to move small groups from every week to once or twice a month. Or only meet every other Sunday night for the summer, or not at all. As you know, it’s not going to slow down unless you make it slow down.

  • @ Tim – Thanks Again. That is a good word. I appreciate your comments and think that it just might be what I need to do. I have been doing youth ministry for almost 10 years and it still seems that I have much to learn. Seriously.

  • Tim this is great perfectly articulated to be sure. Thanks for reminding me

  • Tim this is one of the reasons I like what you do. Hey on a more serious note – can we shoot the bull sometime? I’ve got some questions to run by ya. Shoot me an email –

  • Tim,Sometimes I dont like reading your blog,because we are around the same age and it sounds like your already applying everything that I want to be. How have you taken the steps to simply make it happen? How did you stick to your thought of (if others do not get it done it just will not happen)? For me some of the small things are easy to pick up and just do when others drop the ball. Thanks again.

  • @ Jeremy: Because in the short-run it feels easier to say “Yes,” mostly because we feel like we have to perform, but in the long run it’s often better for the body if we say “No.” I’m not saying I never pick up the ball when someone drops it if it’s something I believe is important for our ministry, but if it’s just an event or something, I’ll let the ball sit there.

    The “no” word was drilled into me throughout Bible college and seminary by profs who had burned out of ministry for a lack of it. I took their example seriously after hearing story after story about how it’s removed Godly men and women from vocational ministry.

    Also, it’s a lot easier to start that trend from the beginning of a new job than it is to try and start a couple years into it when everyone already expects you to “perform” a certain way. So, I limited my time and what I got involved in from the very beginning of this position. Now everyone mostly expects it. That’s not to say there aren’t some who raise an eyebrow, but they’re the ones with the wrong idea about my ministry involvement — not me.

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  • Good three. I like number 2 the best though ;)

    What about games? Aren’t YP’s supposed to be ringleaders? or it seems like that is the paradigm in America. Good post.

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  • Tin, the post was very ood but your comments were great today. No is a tough word. Also what goes in to your theme is the following:

    it is easy to add and not attract attention; but when you subtract; attention will be drawn. Because of that, ome are afraid and scared to do it.

    But ….

    we need to say no
    we need to prune

  • Tim

    Good thoughts. One thing came to mind after I read your post and the comments.

    I think Leadership should be the number 1. That probably flows out of your number 1 & 3, but for me, it is it’s own responsibility.

    That’s my thought.

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