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.

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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 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. Yet, as I’ve learned, 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’ (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

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