After nearly 15 years of youth ministry, I simply got tired of getting the same old results from my blood, sweat, and tears. I was tired of seeing the teenagers I’d loved and poured into over the years walk away from Christ and his church after leaving the safety and comfort of their homes and our ministry. For several decades, the church’s approach to youth has more or less looked the same; but student culture, educational systems, and families have changed significantly.
We realized it was time to take another look at our deepest dreams and discern what must change in order for us to realize those dreams.
Redefining the Role
Our journey has been a long one—haphazard at times, seeking how and what this would look like for our community. When we moved from reimagining to redefining the role of the youth worker and youth ministry at our church, we made a dogmatic statement: We were NOT hiring a youth pastor.
A “youth pastor” job title came with very clear expectations of what this person would and would not do. We needed to re-envision our community toward what this person would be responsible for, as well as the church’s vision regarding youth. Who we hired would be just as important as what we held him or her accountable to do (and not do!).
I grew up in a small, über-conservative church. During college, I volunteered at a small charismatic church and a mid-sized Baptist church. My pastoral work has led me to two megachurches in two different parts of the country. I’ve spoken, consulted, and become friends with leaders from a broad spectrum of economic, social, ethnic, and theological perspectives. Now, when I look across the landscape of youth ministry, I see smaller American churches, urban ministries, and the global church actually engaging in the lives of teenagers. And they’re doing so in ways that reflect our redefined youth ministry roles.
Due to a perceived lack of resources, our brothers and sisters in these contexts have been “divinely forced” to utilize the whole community as they train up the “next generation.” I’ve heard the lament as smaller churches or urban ministries long to hire a youth pastor or additional staff to serve teenagers. But I want to commend our co-laborers for their approach. The ways they’re investing in teenagers are precisely what larger churches or megachurches want more of—more care from the whole church, more parental involvement, and a long-term view of faith development. The silos that many churches must tear down in order to bridge the generations simply aren’t a problem in those smaller contexts. They are, in fact, leading the resource-laden ministries in this respect.
One time after I’d finished speaking on this vision, a key leader in Latin America came up and hugged me, and then he whispered in my ear, “This is what the Latin church has been doing for years. You’re right on. Thank you!” We should be thanking you for your faithful service and leadership—especially when you were told you were doing something wrong, that you needed larger crowds, fancier technology, flashier gizmos, or more “fun events” on your calendar.
After the assessment and waiting periods in my local church [described in chapters 1-2] came to a close, we began hammering out the details regarding the kind of key leader we wanted to bring on to our team. Very soon, we determined a job title.
We would hire a Student Integration Pastor.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of my book, Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker: A Manifesto of Integration. Reprinted with permission via The Youth Cartel.