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.
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 kids to connect, parents who think they know me because they know my parents, parents who volunteer with hidden agendas, parents overprotecting their kids based on vain assumptions or outdated perspectives…I could go on.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 and small
- Bury grudges
- Fully rely on God without interdependences
- Proactively own mistakes
- Partner with parents2
2) The Engage Factor
As much as I love youth pastoring, it’s hard to ignore the trends suggesting student ministry is becoming more obsolete.
Granted, I strongly believe youth should have a defined place of identity and influence in the body outside ‘youth group’. Still, with each passing year, I see many youth and youth parents disconnect from youth ministry with the concern youth group will conflict with their own standards.
But truth is: If these 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’ to know the same; however, it’s in these moments we must exchange entitlement4 for 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.
3) Pressure to Perform
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 judgment or failure.
For instance, a youth pastor may feel less spiritual than his superiors and embrace a performance mentality or over-focus on aesthetic matters than shepherding community.
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, to the extent our modeling of dependency is partial to that extent we compromise our equipping of young people to conquer sin and walk with God.
Bottom line: If 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.
- 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.
- As opposed to settling for intermittent interaction
- In ways I could only learn in youth group
- Specifically, knowing what’s going on behind the scenes
Photo credits: youthministry360.com, thegospelcoalition.org & zachhaas.com