My wife Christa and I began serving at our current ministry on June 18, 2008. Shortly after we began, I wrote out five priorities that I believed should guide my ministry as youth pastor.
I haven’t perfectly executed these priorities. There are many things I would have done differently or more diligently. But looking back on these priorities through the lens of seven years of experience, I can say that there’s nothing about them I would substantially change. They helped guide my choice of time and energy, and I would recommend them to any man entering a similar position.
I recognize that youth ministry, as we typically conceive of it, is largely a culturally-bound phenomenon in the history of the church. There are pros and cons to the whole concept of demographically-specific pastoral ministry in general, and “youth ministry” in particular. With regard to recent developments in youth ministry, I’m grateful that the wacky, trendy, event-driven models of youth ministry (popular within the past few decades) are being replaced by models of ministry that seek to vigorously disciple and integrate the whole family. Notwithstanding the transient nature of “student ministry’ or “youth ministry” per se, the principles that shape these priorities, I believe, are Scriptural, and therefore timeless.
These priorities presuppose that the youth pastor meets the Scriptural qualifications required of a pastor (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:7-9).
1. Serve the senior pastor.
The youth pastor should be committed to advancing his senior pastor’s vision for the the church as a whole, and for the youth ministry in particular. Since the pastor has delegated to the youth pastor the responsibility to shepherd the teens, the youth pastor must learn exactly what his senior pastor expects of him. Establishing these expectations at the outset will give the youth pastor clear goals to work toward, and will provide mutual understanding when the need arises to evaluate the youth pastor’s performance or workload.
If the senior pastor hired the youth pastor, Paul’s instructions to masters and servants also informs the youth pastor’s relationship to his senior pastor as his employer: “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:5-7, ESV).
The youth pastor should love and serve his senior pastor. He should be sensitive to the ministry burdens he bears, and seek to share these burdens when appropriate, or quietly recognize those burdens without interference. The youth pastor’s ambition for success in the youth ministry should complement, not compete with, the health of the whole church.
2. Lead the youth ministry.
No one should be more passionate about the youth ministry than youth pastor himself. Thus, the youth pastor must keep the vision for youth ministry constantly before him, and communicate that vision to the youth leaders, parents, and teens. He should also clarify how he intends to advance that vision, and make sure that every aspect of the youth ministry reflects it.
3. Disciple the teens and youth leaders.
The work of discipleship is the main task to which the youth pastor is called (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:1-2). This means that discipleship meetings (one-on-one and in groups) should occupy part of his weekly schedule.
4. Serve the parents.
Since the youth pastor shepherds a group of people who are still under the authority of their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2), his ministry involves serving the parents as well. The youth pastor should serve the parents in at least the following ways:
- Communicate with the parents. The youth pastor should communicate about teen events and what he is teaching the teens. He should also provide personal feedback to parents about the spiritual development of individual teens.
- Equip the parents with resources for parenting their teens. Ideally, the teens’ primary disciplers are his or her parents, not the youth pastor. Yet many parents feel intimidated or overwhelmed when their children become teenagers. The youth pastor can be a great encouragement to the parents as they strive to rear their children for Christ. Besides directing them to solid books or sermons on parenting, the youth pastor can help the parents make wise choices for their teens by informing them about and interpreting teen cultural phenomena and technology.
5. Preach the Word
A large portion of the youth pastor’s time and energy should go to preparing to teach and preach. The youth pastor must be committed to improving as a preacher (1 Timothy 4:15-16). The teens’ growth in Christian maturity depends on the clear, consistent, and passionate proclamation of Christ in the Scriptures (Colossians 1:27-29).