Over the last few weeks there has a been a little ruckus in the blogosphere between veteran and rookie youth workers. Truthfully that mini battle for respect and for a voice has been going on since the dawn of time. My friends over at youthmin.org decided to open up the conversation and I was invited to speak from the veteran seat. So below is my letter to young youth workers. Make sure to read the letter to old youth workers as well. No matter how old you are, get after it!
Dear Young Youth Worker,
I know that being a young Youth Pastor sucks on many different levels. The money sucks, parents treat you like kids, and your colleagues don’t respect you.
It is one thing for the money to suck because you are still idealistic enough to think that God will provide. And as far as parents, who cares about those guys, it is their kids we want to minister to. (those statements were supposed to be hyperbolic) The thing that chafes the most is that everyone with access to power in the youth ministry world is old and outdated when it comes to culture, ministry philosophy, and program ideas.
All the respected leaders in our field are in their late 40’s or 50’s and many are no longer even in youth ministry anymore. They are the ones in charge of Youth Specialties and Simply Youth Ministry and the like, who write the hottest youth ministry books and blogs, and they are the ones who are bringing their dated and proven to be ineffective models of ministry to the forefront. For you, you want to know, “WHAT GIVES?!”
Well, sit down, grab a glass of milk, and let me tell you like it is.
We live in an era of Youth Ministry with two competing realities vying for life. Here they are:
REALITY #1) Youth ministry, like all of life, has a totem pole of power. In the church, Youth Pastors are at the bottom of it, and among your colleagues, the young guns are at the bottom again. For young youth pastors, this reality SUCKS! It is one thing to serve the church at the bottom, but to be there among your peers is more than anyone can take.
For as great as you think you are, the way you prove your greatness and earn the respect of your peers is to pull off youth ministry for a few years. To gain more respect, do it in the same church.
The way in which you grow in influence and respect among your colleagues is simply to outlast them. There is such a high turnover rate in our profession, that the ones who stick around will naturally move up the totem pole. It’s like platoon leadership in Viet Nam.
As you stick around longer, and as you operate in a cooperative mindset, and you build friendships among your peers, you will have more and more influence at your table. You will move up from being the transportation guy, to the games guy, to MC guy, to even speaker guy (or girl) as you hang in there collegially.
It is your longevity, character, and collegiality that will gain you respect and influence and a real seat at the youth ministry table. And who knows, by the time you are in your mid 40’s, maybe you will be able to really impact the direction of student ministry, only to have the next generation be pissed at you.
REALITY #2) Youth ministry, like all of real life, is not about power, but about passion. While us older folk may have reality #1 in the bag, reality #2 is where real impact for the kingdom of God happens. And young youth pastors have reality #2 in spades.
It may feel like you get little respect in the larger ministry world, but the truth is that that world is a fake world. The real ministry world, where you will have the most impact, is in the individual lives of your students. This is the place you have been called by God to serve and the place where your genuine, authentic passion for Jesus will spill out and over, onto and into your students.
Passion for Jesus, and for ministry, is the biggest asset a youth pastor has. It is the currency of ministry to students. It is also the easiest thing for a Youth Pastor to lose. The older you get the easier it is to trade passion and idealism for bitterness and the motions of ministry.
I am sad to say that I have had more than one season of ministry that has been characterized by bitterness and the dry motions of student ministry. But I have found that the number one way for me to regain my passionfor ministry is to spend time with my peeps who are just starting out in ministry.
Your passion is contagious and is the life blood for those of us who have been around the block a few times. Please don’t let the lack of perceived respect take that away.
For those of us who have moved a little bit up the totem pole in the youth ministry world, we have realized that that is still a tiny and pathetic little pole compared to the actual ministry we do in our local context. And we have realized that ministry is done best when our passion for Jesus is what overflows from our cups.
I am truly honored to have several young guns in my circle of colleagues. Your passion and idealism and guts to challenge an old guy like me keeps me sharp and my eye on the prize. The way you are willing to try new things, ask the hard questions, and not settle for the status quo is in fact moving student ministry forward and making it more relevant and impactful for the next generation.
Please do not lose heart. Please be patient. Please speak up and show up. Even kiss butt. Us Old Youth Pastors are still Youth Pastors and we long to give our lives away, even to older students who are now our colleagues. We will eat that up for dessert and make it our personal mission to help propel you forward in ministry.
Thank you for being faithful in your calling to students and for your desire to have an impact in the larger community of Youth Pastors. Like the apostle Paul says in Romans 12, we are not just parts of the body of Christ, but we actually belong to each other. I need you, your voice, and your friendship.
Your partner in the Gospel,
An Older Youth Pastor