I am a youth pastor. I do many other things at my church, but for the most part, I am the youth pastor. It’s really awesome. I did not think originally that my call to ministry would bring me to where I am, but I can assure you that I love it, it’s awesome, and the Lord has provided for me every step of the way. One of the easiest things about being a youth pastor for me is experience. I don’t have any experience being a youth pastor, but I do have experience being a youth– very recently, actually. I am only 22 years old (23 in December). Literally, this time 4 years ago I had literally just gone off to college. I grew up in a big, vibrant, well-established youth group. So, in terms of experience, I have very recent experience in a youth group. I know exactly what it’s like. I know what it’s like to go to the youth Christmas party, to play pickup basketball, to go to camp, all sorts of things.
I’ve been a youth pastor now for over 6 months. Honestly, I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, but I love it. And I don’t have to know what I’m doing because the Lord does. I am totally speaking from personal experience, and I will probably be proven wrong by some child psychologist in the comments or a mega-pastor. But here is my 6 month review, my key takeaways, from being a youth pastor. I hope you enjoy. If you don’t, well, I totally get it.
1. Church leadership can make or break your job as youth pastor.
My church is an elder-led church. There are four elders (one of them being the senior pastor), a worship pastor, and me. This has been the absolute best-case scenario for me as a brand new youth pastor. For one, they are all reputable, accountable, responsible followers of Christ. Secondly, they are very calculative. There are not any decisions made at this church that aren’t thought about, planned, considered, argued over, and prayed over– including the decision for them to hire me 6 months ago. Quality, Godly, responsible church leadership has been an absolute game-changer. Without their support, their guidance, their wisdom, I would have made several wrong decisions by this point. I couldn’t imagine doing this job without them.
2. Christianity is awesome when it’s a family affair.
I have many students who I have watched grow spiritually in 6 months. Almost every single one of those students who have grown– including the two who have become believers– have families who prioritize the local church and Christ. Bringing your child to church does not make them a Christian. But it does make Christ a priority in their lives. Discipleship is a hard thing to do, and it is certainly a hard thing to do alone. A child’s first “local church” is their home. And when discipleship is being hindered or is simply nonexistent in their first church, the ability of their local church to overcome that obstacle is not always possible. The best thing for me, when it comes to a student, is knowing that we are discipling their whole family. The hardest thing for me, when it comes to a student, is when I know that we aren’t discipling them– because they aren’t here.
3. Kids don’t care about gimmicks. Kids want authenticity.
I’m not a big game person. I also am not and have never been a fan of icebreaker activities. I think they are uncomfortable and corny. That’s just me speaking personally. I was a kid very recently, but I was a very unusual kid. When you think “youth group,” many of you think loud noises, pies in the face, and group games. Sure, we do plenty of fun things. But I have not prioritized or stressed over those things. We’re not a Puritanical theology class. But my goal has been to make the Gospel, the Bible, and the LORD primary, foremost, and distinct. The students I spend my time with are not interested in gimmicks. I don’t think kids really are. Many of them spend their lives being inundated with icebreaker games, shallow humor, and videos. What many of them crave and respond to is authenticity. They want to know someone cares about them. They want to know they can be themselves. They want to show up and not be asked to dance in front of the group. And they don’t want surprises. Many of them don’t want it to be about them. That’s easy. We don’t make it about them. We make it about Christ.
4. Community building is not a goal of the local church, it’s an effect.
It’s very rare, for any of us, that we become friends intentionally with people because someone told us to. It’s even more rare that we become friends because we thought, “Wow, that person should be friends with me. Let me try!” Quite often, friendship and relationships happen as a “right place, right time” type of ordeal. One of the unique challenges in my youth group is that my group is enrolled across maybe 7-10 different schools, with some of them being home-schooled. They don’t know each other, many of them, apart from youth. I could sense this when I started, that they didn’t really know each other and felt weird. As they began to come back to youth, these walls slowly crumbled. It all peaked at summer camp. After they were forced to do everything together for 5 straight days, by the end of the trip, they were fighting over who got to ride with who on the bus. They had a little community. I didn’t create that. I didn’t try to create that. We never, not one time as youth leaders, sat down and planned ways to “build community.” We simply did our thing. We did youth, we did camp, and boom– community happened. Community is not a goal of the local church. Community happens when you actually act like a local church. I can’t force students to be friends. I can’t force them to do anything. But they can choose each other. And when they are all working toward and learning the same things at the same time, typically, they do choose each other.
5. Most importantly, it’s the LORD that does my job as youth pastor– not me.
Honestly, I could tell so many stories of the things that have just simply gone right. I was nowhere near qualified to be hired. 6 months later, I know about 3 more things than I did before I was hired. I am still just a rookie, figuring things out, making mistakes, learning the ropes. But the one thing that has never failed, has never wavered is Jesus. Faithful does not even begin to capture what the LORD has been. My job is to shepherd a group of students, and lead them toward Christ-likeness. My job is to answer hard questions (like, “Does God loves Satan and demons?”… that’s a real example). My job is to go to volleyball games. My job is to pray for them. My job, really, is just to be faithful. And I can’t. I haven’t been faithful. I won’t be. I am a man of little faith, minuscule knowledge, and marginal talent. But Christ is very faithful. When I am unprepared, he isn’t. When I am overwhelmed, he isn’t. When I am doubtful, he isn’t.
If it were up to me and my abilities, my youth group would be useless. If this entire ministry thing were supposed to be about me, it would crash and burn– undoubtedly. 6 months ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now, 6 months later, I still really don’t. But the one thing I am certain of is that Jeremiah captured my own thoughts best:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
There is nothing better to say.
Yes, Lord. Great is your faithfulness.