We live in a time when the church is radically changing, a reality no more evident than among today’s youth. Yet, while the challenge may seem intimidating, when we, as youth pastors, seek to better understand the times, we can discover powerful truth and application.
Granted, it’d take a year and a day to unpack them all so for now, let’s focus on five inspired lessons for today’s youth pastor…
1) Understand the boundaries of social media
It’s no secret today’s youth live and die by social media. Perhaps you’ve noticed more of your youth defining their identity by how many Facebook likes, selfie comments, or Instagram followers they have.
Regardless, it’s critical we, as Generation Z youth leaders, understand how to use modern technology and social media in living the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ?”
As I told our youth several times, the gravity of social media is self-centeredness if we’re looking to it for affirmation; however, if we choose to exude confidence in who we are in Christ, we allow social media to be the encouragement tool it was meant to be.
2) Don’t take peoples’ prolonged absences personally
If you’ve been in ministry long enough, you’ve probably noticed some families checking out for extended periods with little to no communication. Naturally, when this happens, our first instinct is to wonder why; however, as hard as it may be, it’s critical we not take their absences personally.
For one thing, just because you’re a minister doesn’t mean you’re entitled to know every intimate detail of a person’s life. Furthermore, church commitment can’t always be measured in attendance. The reality is life gets crazy and for some, a breather from church can be of benefit.
I remember during my second year as youth pastor when a family disappeared for months without any heads up. Without any leads or intel, the head-scratching was real. “What triggered this? Did something happen? What can be done,” I often thought.
However, after a get-real prayer time with God, it hit me: my role was not to maintain them, but to sustain them…not to keep them in church, but en-couraged!
You see, up until that point, I had been interpreting withdrawal as a function of ego…as if someone else’s distance was my fault; however…
…once I surrendered the right to fully understand outside situations, only then was I able to find the balance between letting go and reaching out.
3) Integrate youth leaders into communication
No question, one of the most exhausting tasks of any youth pastor is getting everyone on the same page. I’m sure many of you at some point have wondered, “Even when I communicate face to face, I have to repeat myself over and over again!”
However, as frustrating the struggle may be, when we filter this challenge through the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ”, we discover how empowering youth to connect with peers can improve communication.
I recall a youth leadership meeting during which my student leaders discussed this issue having realized the need for a better internal and external communication process. As they decided, for the internal process, each youth leader would receive a monthly contact list of sick, struggling, or frequently absent youth to text or call. Likewise, with the external process, each youth leader would invite a friend at school (or outside the leadership core) into the promotion of community events. In this way, not only could adult leaders focus more on parental/professional communication, but also youth could share in the responsibility while fortifying relational bridges as disciple-makers.
One of my favorite examples of this took place when our youth teamed up with the children’s ministry in a recent vacation Bible school promotion outreach. At first, all participants met at the church to pray and inquire of the Lord where to go and who to target. Then, after reaching a spiritual consensus, we broke into groups dispersing into different parts of the city from nearby apartment complexes to local businesses, strip malls, and parks.
From a PR and publicity perspective, the outreach was a huge success resulting in the most attended VBS in our church’s history; however, for our youth, no question bonding with younger peers while recognizing their value in community service left the greatest impressions.
4) Don’t stress about relationships
It’s inevitable. At some point, boy meets girl, boy asks girl out, and before you know it…bam! You have a dating relationship along with endless gossip fodder on your hands. As some of you can attest, the stewardship of purity can be a hard road to navigate from anxious parents and their content expectations to distracted youth and their thirst for acceptance.
Yet, it’s in these circumstances we must remember our role is not to parent but to partner with parents in extending their standards. As you’ll inevitably find, not only will this establish trust between pastor and parent, but also empower the parent to love as Jesus loves and the youth to love what Jesus loves. Not to mention the door will be opened for healthy dialogue to take place regularly.
For instance, during my third year as youth pastor, one of my youth worship leaders started a dating relationship with a fellow youth leader. At first, I felt zero qualms about the development, but gradually, I noticed an uptick in PDA and subsequently, my discomfort in how it could potentially translate. Eventually, a youth parent called me up asking why I wasn’t doing anything to ‘snuff the flame’ out. In response, I told him my responsibility wasn’t to parent, but rather invite the parents involved into the conversation of helping these youth live above reproach.
As it turned out, after discussing the matter with the appropriate parties, each side came away with a better scriptural understanding of what stewarding physical affection looks like.
5) It’s not about quantity, but quality
How many of you have ever been asked “How big is your youth group”? Probably a number of times, right?
Yet, while the question may seem shallow, we must remember:
- Faithfulness is not a function of church size.
- The purpose of church is commissioning community1, not boasting numbers.
If you ask me, I’d rather have 10 passionate youth who understand the Spirit-led life, versus 50 youth looking to be entertained on their weekly pit stop.
After all, pastoring youth is all about cultivating a Gospel-driven culture, not an agenda-driven ministry2.
1) Specifically, community extending the territory of God’s presence
2) Cultivating a place where God’s presence can be known (i.e. demonstrating heaven on earth) is our purpose. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to elevate any pursuit above serving the body in a way the Kingdom is expressed.
Photo credits: whoworship.com, cbbc.com, chastity.com