Youth Pastor or Youth Director?
A few years ago, I noticed a big change in youth ministry. It came on the heels of – or maybe part of – a package deal with megachurch, purpose driven and seeker friendly methods for “doing church.”
Young youth ministers taking jobs in churches found themselves re-labeled as “youth directors.”
This little change says a lot about who we are and what we’re becoming.
Youth pastors were now youth directors. Youth group kids were no longer disciples, they were “students” and churches were now called “campuses.”
It all seems so…1984 Orwellian “newspeak.” The corporate world talks like this. Why are we talking like this?
Do words matter?
I think they do.
First of all, we are not “students” going to a “campus.” We are disciples who are part of the Body of Christ, warriors training for war. This isn’t a university, it’s boot camp. If you don’t take it that seriously, don’t expect that your “students” will.
But the more dangerous change is going from “youth minister” and “youth pastor” to “youth director.”
My first mental image when I hear this is a goofy, fun-loving party organizer hired to do fun “events.” They have a goofy hat, a clipboard and lots of fun “icebreakers” to get everyone socializing. “Go here, stop, sit down, here we go, everyone sing!”
The corporate world some time ago created “team building” activities to help their employees become one big happy family. I see the value of that, in the secular world.
And honestly, I’m not anti-games in youth groups. (Though I see no scriptural examples of young believers playing catch-the-chariot.) In fact, it actually can be helpful for getting all that angst and adrenaline out so they can hopefully focus on the message (or not, but at least they won’t be hanging from the rafters.)
What concerns me is the idea that the main reason kids are there is to socialize, be entertained, babysat.
It’s not just semantics, either. Many of the new mega and seeker friendly pastors don’t want youth pastors. They want them to direct, not pastor, not teach, not disciple. And the sad, unfortunate thing is, it often comes from two ideas:
(1) Kids can’t handle a lot, so just give them fun and a few little Jesus snacks,
(2) Youth group isn’t for “pastoring.” Let the pastor pastor, let the kids learn in “big church.”
The problem with that is, (a) The truth is that kids can handle as much as you give them, and (b) sermonettes create Christianettes, or in other words, if you give them Jesus tidbits they’ll be malformed, malnutritioned believers (if they stay in the faith after they leave youth group for college) and (c) in many mega/seeker-friendly Churches, they don’t get pastored in “big church.” They get a seeker-friendly, self-help, motivational pep talk with a smidgen of scripture, a tiny bit of psycho-pop talk, and a prayer to put a nail in it. (I won’t say it…)
Even when the message is good, it’s still not pastoring. Pastoring requires time…prayer…love.
So if you expect your youth pastor to direct – not pastor, – then Pastor, you have to pastor them. Get involved, pray for them, teach and disciple them.
“But I’m a pastor, I’m not called to “do youth.” Aha! Exactly. Then cut your youth pastor loose to pastor them and do the hard work of discipleship with them!
“Well, the parents should be doing that.” Right, but very often, they do not, or cannot. Many aren’t even believers, and many times parents saved parents appreciate and count on a youth pastor to pastor them and do the hard spiritual work with them. And they should be able to count on that. And we should respond. It’s not that many parents don’t want to see their kids grow spiritually; they very much do. But they also recognize a parent can’t always be “pastoral” because kids need to hear it from someone else. You know what I mean! “Mom, our youth pastor told us this cool story about why we need to get good grades!” You: “That’s great, honey (I’ve been saying that for years…in one ear, out the other…)
It’s really good that it works this way! We all serve different functions in the body, right? Well, parents are parents, fathers are the High Priests of their home, mothers are nurturers, (and sometimes enforcers!) who teach by scripture, example, love…
…and youth pastors make kids strong, raise up warriors, invest in their faith and future, get them ready for a lifetime walk. And that’s how it should work. Youth pastors teach to underline parents’ lessons, help them grow into Jesus-like disciples and prepare them for a life of service and church fellowship when they leave youth. What’s the downside to that?
I have to wonder if the whole “youth director” thing isn’t sometimes motivated by trying to avoid any underlying competition. But sometimes it’s because some really don’t want serious, 100% all-in and all-out Jesus discipleship taught to kids. We don’t think kids can take it. We may not even see the need for it.
And also, admittedly, you do have some parents who don’t want that either. As I have heard it said many times before, “We wanted a place for kids to find wholesome things to do. You all are too religious and too serious about this ‘God thing’ with kids.”
But in fact, we need to raise strong-as-steel young believers who actually believe Jesus wants it all!
And, pastors, we too often bend to the will of such parents, especially if they are heavy tithers. Can’t we just be honest about that?
So the real test for us is, are we willing to bring on a youth minister who will fire up the youth and make them lifers for Jesus – radical, fanatical kids who actually believe the Bible and are willing to give all – even die for it? You know, like 90% of the Christians in the real world of persecution live? Yes – it could mean some angry parents leaving, loss of tithes, etc. It’s a test of how much you believe in the value of youth ministry. After all, they will either fill or vacate your seats in just a few short years, and most underfed, spiritually anemic but greatly entertained youth never survive their first year in secular college. Think about the long-term effects of hiring a director instead of investing and standing behind a youth pastor that shares your heart cry for a generation raised up strong in Jesus.
And by the way, a number of kids will come to youth that have unsaved parents, no spiritual care at home, or worse – neglect, abuse, anger, pain. Youth is their safe place. Why not find a youth pastor/couple who will stand in the gap as spiritual parents as well, cry with them, hurt for them, wrestle with, fight with and endure with them? No tithes or withdrawal of tithes come with these kids…but they are the lost sheep Jesus calls us to go after! Yes, you do need a youth shepherd to help you build your church. I pray God will give you the foresight and wisdom to get one with a heart just like Jesus.
Let your youth pastor put away the director’s cap, put on the mantle, and pick up a staff – and lead, not direct.
Gregory R Reid