Your input: What do sr. pastors need to hear from youth workers?

In a couple weeks I’m speaking at a retreat for sr. pastors who serve here in the northwest. For the first session they asked me to teach sr. pastors how they can support their paid and volunteer youth workers. However, the second session is wide open to whatever I think sr. pastors need to hear from youth workers. Interesting, huh? That’s a lot of free reign to say all the things we all want to say that could possibly get us fired.

Here’s what I’ve brainstormed for the first session on how sr. pastors can support their youth workers. What else should I add?

How sr. pastors can support their youth workers

Always publicly support your youth workers. Always. Even if it makes you look bad. Later, take the youth worker privately in your office and give them the, “What were you thinking?!” talk. There’s nothing that will erode your youth ministry team faster than feeling unsupported by their pastor. And nothing will deter others from serving in the youth ministry more than when they see that taking place.

Make yourself available to the teens. Don’t push youth work off onto a couple volunteers and expect that you’ll understand what they’re dealing with with issues arise. Visit the youth meetings on a regular basis, talk with the kids, show them that you’re real and approachable and that you care about them.

Change your mind about only using “young married couples” as youth workers. Consider the retired generation: they have time, life experience, spiritual maturity, and love for youth like no one else! Kids don’t care about how “hip” their leaders are or if they’re familiar with all the latest bands and movies — they just want to know that someone cares about them unconditionally.

Give your youth workers direction and guidance, but other than that, be hands-off. Let them experiment, explore and try new things. Let them pursue their God-given vision for the ministry (as long as it’s within the vision of the church, of course). Give them the freedom to fail and learn. And when they do fail, support them and encourage them through it. Understand that most sr. pastors are the engineering-type: they pay attention to detail, are very bullet-point linear people, and like to manage things. But youth workers usually the opposite: they are big-picture people, not always linear, and feel comfortable with a bit of controlled chaos. Enable them to serve how God’s created them, not however makes you feel most comfortable.

When recruiting youth workers, listen to their heart, their dreams, passion and giftedness for ministry and plug them in a place where that can vibe. Don’t just use people to fill the ministry’s holes and empty classrooms. Create places where their passion can shine and become contagious to those around them. And if your ministry holes aren’t filled, that’s okay — trust that the Lord wants to go a different direction.

Challenge your youth workers to think about youth ministry as something more than just a social time for kids with a Bible study thrown in. Teens want depth more than fun and games. And they don’t want to be “preached at” as much as they like to discuss and engage the material themselves.

Why teenagers are leaving the church

I thought I could do the second “free reign” session to talk about the teen drop-out from church after high school. What do you think? Is there something else that’s more pressing that sr. pastors need to hear?

Here are some of the talking points I’ve brainstormed so far:

Be intentional about getting teenagers integrated into the church. Avoid “minichurch” approach to youth ministry: youth pastor, youth service, youth band, youth building, youth church. They are part of THE church. Have them give input into church decisions, involved in leading worship, greeters, offering, sharing testimonies, teach a class to adults on how to use the Internet to communicate, offer ideas for how to improve services, etc. Make the teenagers a vital part of the church body.

Many parents are not modeling the daily interaction between faith and real life for their kids at home. Kids don’t see a faith in their parents that intersects and determines every area of life. Their parents attend church, but the home life is void of any spiritual influence. Teens see that disconnect and see no reason to be a part of it when they’re finally on their own.

The best thing you can do for the teenagers in your church and your community is NOT to start a youth program at your church — it’s to ensure that the parents are growing spiritually and actually living out their faith every day in front of their kids. Pastors need to challenge the adults to actually grow, not just be faithful attenders.

With each sermon, include a couple discussion questions that parents can use to further the discussion about the Sunday message at home or in the car. Follow-up and during the week ask people to share in front of church how the conversation went in order to offer accountability so parents and teens alike grow to expect it.

I’d love to hear your feedback. What else do sr. pastors need to hear from youth workers? What do I need to add to these notes? Is there a different route I should go with the second session?

Join our LIVE Youth Ministry Conversation this Friday at 2:00 PM EST! The topic is, “Evaluating the spiritual depth of our youth ministries.” Of course, we also want to discuss your questions and any advice or ideas you need from other youth workers. Join us using either your telephone or your computer microphone.

Posted on September 4, 2008

  • Point two and three of “Why teenagers are leaving the church” is spot on. You get a similar effect from those causes with teenagers who all of a sudden become really on fire for God at university, it’s because they’re finally living with people who they see are studying the Word and praying and evangelising. Not necessarily that parents aren’t doing these things, just that the teenagers aren’t often seeing them doing these things.

  • In some ways I think Senior pastors need to be more hands on and not hands off. They need to mentor and guide … and unfortunately not alot of 23yr olds are ready to Run a youth group ….

  • @ Gman: Yeah, that’s a valid point. Thanks. I guess I wrote that out of my past frustrations, but you’re totally right. It really depends on the youth worker.

  • Chris Miller

    Only thing I would add is that they (sr. pastor) remember to pray for us and have our congregations pray for us. Maybe occasionally ask for specific pray request. I think if more people heard our heart/vision in our prayer request that they would be more supportive and less critical. It would also make everyone aware of the challenges we face in youth ministry. We all know youth ministry can be tough but it makes a HUGE difference when you feel the support of your pastor and church.

  • @ Chris Miller: Dude, how did I forget that one?! lol That definitely needs to be on the list. Thank you!

  • 3 part post and kind of long…sorry
    I think the most important thing a youth leader wants is LOYALTY. I hear pastors speak of loyalty all
    the time, but loyalty is a two-way street. While disloyalty to a youth worker is never grounds for them
    to break the trust of their pastor, a youth leader will never reach his potential without his pastor’s
    loyalty. Too many times I’ve watch powerful people in churches complain to the pastor about the
    youth leader and then watched that pastor take the side of the parishioners. While I’m sure it’s tough
    as a pastor to support a young minister when he has made a mistake, the pastor must make sure that
    he doesn’t join up with these people to Barbeque the youth pastor for lunch. There is no way a young
    man of God can walk in anointing and authority when this is going on. How can he lead students
    when they know if they complain to mom and dad, they’ll get the pastor to “fix it.” I was so blessed as
    a green youth leader to have a pastor that gave me room for mistakes and backed me up. There
    were plenty of times my pastors could have rebuked me, but they always took up for me in front of the
    people and addressed these issues in private with me.

  • Another thing our youth pastors are looking for is FREEDOM. If you hire someone to be your youth
    pastor, then allow them to have time to do ministry with students. If you expect them to be in the
    office all week long, then it is going to be hard for them to reach young people. Allow them the
    opportunity to be on the local campus as much as possible. I know there are plenty of associate
    duties that they need to be a part of, but don’t bog them down with so many of these duties that they
    don’t have time to be creative in the youth area. Another way you can give your youth leader
    freedom is by providing finances for your youth ministry. If it’s true that 90% of the people who are
    Christians today became one before the age of 20, then we might need to re-evaluate our church
    budgets. I’m not saying that 90% of the budget should go to the youth ministry, but give them a small
    budget or allow them to do some fundraisers so they can be more effective. A good youth ministry
    will bring new families into the church and pay for itself time and time again. Allow them the freedom
    to make some mistakes. Allow them the freedom to preach outside your church. While they don’t
    need to book ten revivals each year, don’t be afraid that someone will steal your “best kept secret” by
    allowing them some exposure. First of all, if you are treating them like you should, they won’t want to
    work for someone else. Secondly, by allowing them to preach out you can help supplement their
    income and realize how good that have it by being on your staff.

  • The final thing I believe young youth leaders are looking for is FRIENDSHIP. You don’t have to be
    buddies with your youth pastor, but be sure to make time for him. Most youth leaders would jump at
    the chance to join you for lunch or some hospital calls. I volunteered on several occasions to drive
    my pastor to various meetings. I did this so I could have some time with him. (He also had a really
    cool car) As a pastor, you will have the opportunity to help a young leader get off to a great start or a
    disappointing one. The length and effectiveness of his or her ministry will in large part be due to the
    time they sat under your leadership. Be a Samuel to a young David. Be a Paul to a struggling
    Timothy. Take advantage of the opportunity God has given you to effect a future generation.

  • Kate

    Short version of Gman and Jeremy part 3
    Give them time!
    Then you will be able to correct, direct and have a clue what they’re doing and they will have a sounding board.
    Give then time!

  • Eric

    Tim –

    Great post, agree with your thoughts. Related to your “how sr. pastors can support” list I’d offer this practical suggestion of a way to implement point #1: speak highly of them in front of others, in other church leadership committee meetings, to families visiting church, etc. and then share that with the y.w. (not in a boastful way, of course, but as a means of encouragement to the y.w. about the job they are doing). We all know how little recognition and support is sometimes expressed. Knowing that the hard work, effort, and plans of the y.w. is noticed by the sr. pastor and acknowledged to other church leadership or church members may help others see how the y.w. is contributing to the overall vision/mission of the church as a whole and see the value of having that y.w. leading the youth ministry.

  • Carolyn

    I love this article… and the one you posted about the olders helping in youth group… ah, but our church seems to be stuck in the young moms leaving their 10 and unders at home or with the sitter to join in at youth group… The one thing that has been on my heart lately is …..

    It is so lost, so gone, so needed and so not to be found in the flip flop, java happy, feel so good church… how then do we hear God.. if we cannot be still? Where do we learn to be still?
    Did you ever experience as a child going up the stairs to church on sunday, being formally greeted, sitting down to quiet music and just feeling God”s presence? Did you ever wonder why it felt so huge in the church? Did you feel when you prayed that God was right there? I am not nor have ever been Catholic, but the Catholic churches had those knee rests so you could kneel right there, on your knees before God.
    …It’s not about the religion of it but about the REVERENCE of God?
    What was it like when Jesus prayed… When HE talked to God? Oh I can imagine those moments were so Quiet.. so HE could hear and feel .No wonder the disciples fell asleep in the Garden..
    How do we then teach our kds to be reverent? how do we teach them to be still? How do we teach them that their feet should be clean as they prepare to come before the Lord? Do we need to teach them to prepare their hearts to hear a word from the Lord? What about Modesty before the Lord? In HIS house?
    There is so much to be said for the Old timers and what they know so much to be heard from the Elders…
    Is there a place for REVERENCE in todays Church?
    This is my question for Senior Pastors….

  • Ricky

    Great topics and points! As the new youth pastor of a church here in WA state, I think there is so much validity to your 2nd speaking topic. This is something we’re in the process of teaching our parents and people (especially with an emphasis on making teenagers a part of church). Thanks for your insight!

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