3 Challenges for Today’s Youth Leaders

In a previous post, I outlined five important lessons for 21st century youth pastors. Today, I’m going to switch gears by discussing three of the biggest challenges youth leaders face on a daily basis.

1) The Parent-Youth Pastor Relationship

As a parent of two under two, I can’t fully relate to the stress of seasoned parents; however, while I may not have conquered potty training or the volcano science fair project, I do know:

  • While parents understand their youth better, this doesn’t mean they understand the youth group better1.
  • While parents can be a youth pastor’s most challenging relationship, if trust and communication is established from the get-go, it will have a greater opportunity to flourish.

55018ce7-83c3-48ef-a922-8a40ef187ca0

In my experience, I’ve seen it all: parents asking other parents or staff questions they should be asking me, parents criticizing my effort to other pastors and parents, parents pulling their kids out of youth group without explanation, parents not making any effort to connect, parents not making any effort to encourage their youth to connect, parents who think they know me because they know my parents, parents who volunteered with hidden agendas, parents overprotecting their kids based on vain assumptions…I could go on.

Yet, by conquering these offenses, I’ve often found the motivation to not only tend these challenging relationships with a pure heart, but maximize parental buy-in with a clearer understanding of God’s vision for their youth. Remember to the extent you press through, to that extent you’ll find it easier to:

  • Believe the best, not just hope the best
  • Be faithful in the big andsmall
  • Bury grudges
  • Fully rely on God without interdependences
  • Proactively own mistakes
  • Partner with parents2

For instance, after learning one of my parents had a gift for teaching music, I decided to extend him an opportunity to help me create a youth worship band. In this way, I not only invested in one of his passions and spiritual gifts, but also invited him into a piece of the overall vision.

2) The Engage Factor

As much as I love student ministry, engaging families skeptical of youth group is a consistent challenge. From my end, youth should have a defined place of identity and influence in the body at large. Unfortunately, with each passing year, I see many youth and youth parents disconnect from youth ministry fearing youth group will conflict with their standards.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the same thing, wondering why parents are so quick to withdraw before a conversation can be had. If so, remember if their standards are to be extended, then they must be empowered to be encouraged.

Again, I may be a fairly young parent, but I’m also a seasoned youth leader appreciative of having learned the heart of worship, the value of dependence, and the necessity of Hebrews 10:24-25 community in youth group.3

So, if you’re like me, having learned the essentiality of youth group through years of experience, it makes sense for us, as shepherds, to want ‘fence families’ (i.e. uncommitted attenders with uninvolved youth) to know the same; however, it’s in these moments we must exchange entitlementfor encouragement.

For while it’s true more people are basing their engagement on circumstance and convenience as opposed to conviction, we must remember it’s not our responsibility to reverse the trend. Rather it’s our privilege to pray God inspires understanding of what commitment in community looks like…while modeling it along the way.

I remember with one family years back, understanding the needs of their rising youth was a huge challenge. Often times, they’d reach out inviting me to pray over their youth on a Sunday morning and then go into radio silence for weeks leaving me to wonder if I had done something wrong. Thankfully, the more I started to pray outside my understanding, the more I started to relate within my understanding. As it turned out, the youth wrestled with autism and the parents, who thought they had communicated this to me, went years assuming I knew. Only once we bridged the misunderstanding did communication and community between me and the family begin to improve; however, looking back, it’s clear had I not repeatedly surrendered my questions to God, I likely would have lacked the humility to own my ignorance.

3) Pressure to Perform

stress

Perhaps the most oppressive challenge in this list involves the pressure to perform. While this struggle may vary from person to person, the common denominator is usually a fear of appearances.

For example, as a rookie youth pastor, arguably my greatest insecurity was feeling less spiritual than my superiors. Accordingly, I started embracing a performance mentality, growing more concerned over aesthetic matters than shepherding community.

However, after a moment of counsel with one of my mentors, who also happened to be a youth parent at the time, my eyes were opened to the places I was unnecessarily striving in. For that reason, I was able to repent and turn from my pride.

Whatever the case, it’s critically important for youth ministers not to let fear generate action since a priority of execution as opposed to service will hinder what relying on God looks like. To paraphrase Alistair Begg, in modeling only partial dependency, we compromise our equipping of young people to conquer sin and walk with God.

Bottom lineIf our initiative isn’t “simply Jesus”, then we not only dilute our leadership, but also minimize the potential of God’s Spirit transforming youth from the inside-out.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Specifically vision and mission. Also, it does concern me how some are not taking ownership of their kids’ spiritual growth. While some parents are extremely overprotective, others can rely too heavily on the church to change their kids.
  2. As opposed to settling for intermittent interaction
  3. In ways I could only learn in youth group
  4. Specifically, knowing what’s going on behind the scenes

Photo credits: youthministry360.com, thegospelcoalition.org & zachhaas.com

Bivocational Profile: The Bivocational Pastor…Like My Father Before Me

Meet Pastor Wes. Pastor Wes is the children’s pastor at Your Community Church. He shepherds the K-6th grade population, assists the youth pastor with special events, and occasionally leads worship for various small group functions.

Without question, Pastor Wes loves his role and pursues it with steadfast devotion.

Yet, despite his contagious passion, Pastor Wes carries the unique distinction of not only being a BPK (i.e. bivocational pastor’s kid), but the son of the senior pastor as well.

In light of this, Pastor Wes often feels he doesn’t measure up, especially with respect to his dad. In addition, he feels overlooked, burdened by the weight of other people’s expectations, and discouraged by an increasing lack of edification.

the-struggles-of-a-pastors-kidFurthermore, Wes finds it hard to connect to his peers and other staff due, in part, to “last name association” with the senior pastor. Some church congregants even go as far to criticize Wes for his father’s actions, while others intentionally ignore him as a passive means to avoid confrontation.

However, none of this is new to Wes, having grown up with the PK label his entire life. Internally calloused yet perseverant, Wes questions his path as one regularly  torn between home church allegiance and his dream to escape the shallow stereotypes of his surroundings.

With a limited church salary, Wes supports his family by working part-time as a barista and an online tutor/teacher at a local homeschool tutorial. When he’s not ministering to young people, Wes enjoys spending time with his wife and dog, running insanely long distances to stay in shape, and playing soccer at a local recreational league.

Challenges: 

  • The PK label – often feels neglected, judged or both.
  • Not given opportunities to shine due to senior pastor’s fear of showing favoritism.
  • Lack of encouragement and communication with other staff assuming he gets enough of this from his family.
  • Lack of connectedness with the rest of the body.
  • Doesn’t feel grace to grow.
  • Often feels invisible.

Opportunities:

  • Finds strength in overcoming on a daily basis.
  • Is driven to depend on God for identity and purpose.
  • Is gifted in helping others struggling in the same boat.
  • Character constantly refined by “in church” challenges.

The challenge is real…and so are the opportunities. Do you fit into this profile? What are some other challenges or opportunities you have encountered? Share in the comments below.

Photo credits: christianpost.com & ungrind.org

3 Ways to Overcome a Fear of Rejection

No doubt, we all burn to belong.

Makes sense…considering we were made for relationship…to put on love and commune in harmony (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:14).

But let’s be honest…such desires aren’t always realized, are they.

Relocations…busyness…life changes…even the walls we put up…cycle through as hindrances interfering with our need to find unity in community.

Yet, perhaps the greatest obstacle we face when we talk about healthy relationships is the fear of rejection1.

Now, I admit: I’m still progressing through my own set of relational insecurities. But while I may have much to learn, I’ve also grown a great deal having persevered through idolatrous pursuits of acceptance in my early 20’s , in addition to recent challenges as a bivocational minister.

So when I say a fear of rejection is one of the most paralyzing strongholds, you can take my word to the bank.

As far as dealing with this fear type, you’ve probably heard much on the topic already.

Yet, for bivocationals juggling multiple responsibilities on the fly, it’s worth re-emphasizing given fear’s tendency to find its way on the backburner.

Thus, in the spirit of stirring awareness, here are three practical ways to conquer a fear of rejection:

1) Own it. 

Statistics show the vast majority of what people worry about is either vain (false reality) or beyond their control (false expectations). In most cases, we fear once we sense a loss of control on a desirable outcome. For example, we want people to like us, but find we lack “chemistry”. We want to be living our dream, but find our reality is far from it. We want to reap securities, but find all we have is fractured hope.

No question, the chasms are real; however, this doesn’t mean we’re chained to them until the bridge forms. Why? Because it’s only when we relinquish our lust for control we start to conquer our fears.

So next time you find yourself fearing rejection, questioning your fit, place, image, safety..or that of a loved one, own it, surrender the stress, pray the Word, embrace self-control, and faint not.

2) Reject it.

Sometimes, we treat fear like a giant game of dodgeball. We think if we can just finagle through life without getting hit, then we’ll be okay. The problem with this idea is…at some point, you will get hit, if not with the fear, then the temptation of it.

The best way to combat fear, especially the fear of rejection, is to value what equips you. ‘Cause when you realize you have what it takes to overcome, you won’t hesitate to stand your ground when the dodgeballs start flyin’, not to mention you’ll be in position to catch and dispatch them.

tumblr_mcij592NhJ1qasthro1_400

Just remember: When a fear of rejection is elevated to the point of dodging certain people and situations, you’re ultimately giving it the power to manipulate your emotions and decisions. Instead, why not dare to be a conqueror (Romans 8:37) and reject fear rather than let fear do the rejecting2?

 3) Replace it.

Perhaps one of the most misinterpreted passages in all of Scripture is 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” At first glance, we may think Peter is suggesting love cancels out certain offenses; however, when we dissect the text, we find love, in this context, is a covering, more specifically…an opportunity for us to confront3, forgive, and press on in love-soaked honesty.

How does this apply to a fear of rejection? Well, for starters, the opposite of love is fear (not hate). Furthermore, love must speak truth (Ephesians 4:15) and requires action with respect to sin. Thus, if we value honesty as the first step of love4 and recognize fear as a reciprocating response, then we’ll realize how a) a fear of rejection numbs us to what we were created for5   and b) the absence of fear is not the endgame, but rather the beginning!

In other words, if you want to move on the right way, but are still burdened by a fear of rejection, don’t just recognize and renounce it. Rather, take the next step and ask God specifically how He wants you to replace it!

‘Cause when you do, you’ll not only discover a new commitment to communicate the truth in love, but also unlock a stronger fear of Him6.   

Footnotes

1) Note: Initially, I had planned to write this piece on the fears of rejection and mediocrity; however, I’ve since decided to split this up into two parts, with today’s discussion focusing on the fear of rejection and next week’s feature on the fear of mediocrity.

2) There’s basically two responses to fear: “Forget everything and run” or “Face everything and rise

3) …without taking offense

4) Inspired by Steve Fry’s sermon at The Gate Community Church on Sunday, May 31

5) Seriously…what sense does it make to forfeit even the potential for relational restoration and/or clarity in exchange for passive living, isolation, guilt, and dissatisfaction.

6) As honesty abounds, you’ll find a fear of rejection will confound.

Photo credits: shifttohappy.com