A rant about the state of “Youth Ministry”

I’m currently searching for a ministry work in western Canada and am in the candidating process with several churches.  I’ve applied for pastoral positions in both senior pastor and associate/youth pastor roles, and as I’ve been talking with churches and doing research online, I’ve been reminded that I’m no longer in the emerald city.  I’m back in the land of “youth ministry”, where we have “youth pastors” and “real pastors”, and the two are anything but synonymous.  I think “youth pastor” is a deceptive title, since in youth ministry you find precious few pastors who fulfill, or are even really cognizant of, the biblical teaching on the one who claims the title of “pastor“.  I’ve been trained in both the Youth Pastor mentality of ministry and then, the Shepherding mentality of ministry.  I’m aware of both and am familiar with the intricacies of both.

I definitely love working with youth, and I have a lot of fun and I’m very relational.  I love adolescents.  Don’t get me wrong.

I’ve also taken most of my youth ministry books to the local thrift shop since now that some of them predate the internet, they’re as apparently as useful as this.

I was researching online and I found this: a guide to help churches find a great youth pastor, from someone who’s a significant part of the youth ministry scene and who I personally like quite much.  I have no ill will toward the man, but I am suspicious of his ideas on the selection of a pastor.

What should churches be looking for in pastor of youth?

1. A heart for God

2. A love for people (of all ages)

3. A leader

4. A developer of others

5. A Communicator/teacher.

And, that’s it.

That’s all.

I don’t know about you, but points 1 and 2 simply mean that your pastoral candidate is saved, since all Christians need to exhibit those characteristics.  Points 3, 4 and 5 are good, and I defintely agree.

BUT:

– Does he have to be biblically qualified as an elder to function in a leadership role in the church?  Apparently not.

(So 1 Tim. 3:1-12 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to show himself as one who rightly handles the word of truth?  Apparently not.

(So 2 Tim. 2:15 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be able to teach sound doctrine, at all?  Apparently not.

(So Titus 1:9 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be able to refute false doctrine, at all?  Apparently not.

(So again, Titus 1:9 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be able to prepare the youth of the church for works of service (i.e. adulthood)?  Apparently not.

(So Ephesians 4:12 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be able to build up the youth of the church in the historic body of orthodox doctrine and personal knowledge of Christ cultivating spiritual maturity?  Apparently not.

(So Ephesians 4:13 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be a willing shepherd who serves out of an eager heart and not a desire for financial gain?  Apparently not.

(So 1 Peter 5:2 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be an exemple of spiritual leadership who doesn’t utilize his authority in a domineering way?  Apparently not.

(So 1 Peter 5:3 is apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

– Does he have to be a example worthy of emmulation in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity?  Apparently not.

(So 1 Timothy 4:12 & 16 are apparently not part of choosing a pastor of youth?)

The list goes on and on.

I used to swallow the whole idea that certain behavior and doctrinal incompetence was permissible because “he’s just a youth pastor‘ and I grew up with several youth pastors who couldn’t answer even the most basic theological questions.  Don’t get me wrong; youth pastors don’t need to be professional theologians…but they also shouldn’t be allowed to be confused on basic doctrine either.  If they cannot defend the deity of Christ against a teenage mormon, there’s something wrong.

But with the high level of moral failure among youth pastors (I can think of at least a dozen that dishonorably left churches in the past 15 years that I know of) and the high rates of adolescent church dropout (the numbers range from 96% to 88% to 70% to 60% to 34%…though statistics show that 100% of surveys taken by Christians about things like this are as reliable as exegesis from Benny Hinn), I’m wondering if the current ministry model of youth ministry might be a much larger part of the troubles in the church than many realize.

Maybe the youth of the church are emulating their leaders.  I mean, I’ve heard the whole “the average lifespan of a youth pastor is 18 months” statistic before and though that’s likely not too accurate, I cannot think of more than a precious few friends of mine who have been in youth ministry for over a decade, let alone at the same church.  I have more than a few friends who went into youth ministry, got burned, and dropped out of church altogether.  If that’s what the shepherd does, what more can we reasonably expect from the sheep?

As I search the scripture, I don’t see any mention of “youth pastors” in any seperate way from “pastors”.  There is no second set of standards.  Theres no allowance for doctrinal or spiritual immaturity because of some second class ministry role like “youth pastor”.   The entire concept of youth ministry as some sort of disctinct type of shepherding work is foreign to scripture.

In scripture I see Timothy, Paul’s young apprentice, being the one who received much of the content of the pastoral epistles.  He’s the one who’s charged with the commissions to be an example to the elderly, defend the faith, preserve sound doctrine, rightly interpret the scriptures, etc.

Is that how our current model of youth ministry looks?  Are youth pastors expected to do any of those things?

I’d suggest that if our current model of youth ministry isn’t biblical, is it any suprise that it isn’t working?

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair ποιμήν πρός νέος” Unger

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