November 30, 2020

Five Things That Youth Ministers Need To Hear (and you’re afraid to tell them, so, OK, I’ll do it.)

ym.jpgAt least once a month, someone writes me about their youth minister. What to do…what to do…what to do….with the zealous, sincere, yet wrong-headed young fellow who is about to split the church between the youth who would die for him and the adults who want to kill him.

I suppose I am a member of the youth minister’s fraternal for the rest of my earthly life. I’ve been involved with teenagers in ministry for almost all of my 30 years of paid ministry. I’ve been the college-age youth director and the seminary graduated, full-time associate pastor with youth responsibilities. I’ve done everything youth ministers do, over and over and over, till I went to the hospital and got medication for my blood pressure. I’ve also been a pastor who fired and hired youth ministers, so I know both sides of the desk. I’ve consulted with churches and spoken at conferences. I’ve met with parents and counseled many, many youth ministers in crisis. I’ve loved it, and hated it; watched it happen and been in the middle of whatever was happening. The sublime. The ridiculous. The Youth Specialties stuff. All of it. I was never arrested, but I should have been shot several times. Since I lived it, I have some street cred, and I want to use it.

I would like to attempt a general piece of advice to youth ministers. A single, comprehensive, absurdly ambitious list of wisdom to answer all questions and remedy all situations? No, more of what I’d say if I had to prepare an answer to most of my “What can we do about the youth minister?” mail. Let’s call it “Five Things That Youth Ministers Need To Hear.”

Just have a seat. You’re 24, you look great, you’re having fun at your job….time to sit in the chair, take out the earphones, and listen to the old, fat guy.

Before I start, two preliminary words: First, we appreciate you. This isn’t easy, I know. It can be fun, but it is hard to be a friend to everyone, and to hear all the pain and emptiness that’s out there in the lives of teenagers. We want you to succeed, and to be the presence of Christ for these kids. We will support you, and we’ll do all we can to make your ministry a success in ways that honor God and the Gospel.

Second: Church…you asked for it. Deciding to have a youth minister should have committed you to the process of getting a mature, trained, professional who sees him/herself as a pastor and teacher, who loves the ministry and seeks the supervision of the church and the approval of parents. If you wound up with a 21 year old clueless adolescent who can’t be trusted with $20 or the announcements, it’s your fault. If you allow that person unchecked and unsupervised freedom to “work with the youth,” then be sure and applaud the show, because you could have gone several other directions. If things are bad now, don’t just fire the youth minister. Fix your idea of leadership, your method of supervising ministry and your goals for a youth program.

Ok. Enough of being nice and spiritual. Time to poke you with a stick.

1. Who are you responsible to? Is it the pastor? OK. If it is the pastor, when was the last time you discussed your responsibilities in detail? When was the last time you asked for an evaluation? In detail? Are you avoiding your pastor? Acting like he’s not actually your mentor and supervisor? Are you running your own show and grinning at him during the occasional devotional meeting for the staff? Stop acting like that. Go see your pastor. Get completely and totally under his supervision for whatever you are doing. Give him the whole plan, and ask him what he thinks. He is the man. You are the boy. Sign up for that and love it.

Oh…he doesn’t want to meet with you? Then get another job. That’s right, quit. Take your time, but quit. If you don’t have pastoral supervision and pastoral sponsorship you need to work elsewhere.

While you are at it, get a job description. Written down. Telling you exactly what you are supposed to be doing, who you report to, and how you fit into what the church is doing. See, you work for our church, helping us fulfill our mission. So you need to be very concerned about our expectations, not just your own ideas.

2. Are you really popular with the kids? That’s great. How are you achieving this popularity? By introducing them to Christ? The Bible? The Gospel? Are you bringing them into the life of the church? Teaching them the faith and demonstrating the church’s mission of service to others in Jesus’ name?

Or are you doing lots of cool, fun, stuff? Oh…you are doing both, are you? Cool and fun, plus Bible and Gospel. Hmmmm….

Are you sure about this? You’re quite sure you are giving them the truth about Jesus, an honest look at scripture and a loyalty to the church? You aren’t selling these things at discount prices? You aren’t cutting corners that will ensure your kids will abandon the church at the first opportunity and head for whatever three ring, mall-looking circus of a mega-church youth and college ministry does the best Dave Mathews Praise and Worship Band impersonation? You aren’t making them into the enemies of the older members? You aren’t teaching them that their parents are wrong? You aren’t teaching them that we need to spend lots of money on them and take them lots of places and do lots of extreme things because we MUST BE SURE THEY ARE NEVER EVER BORED?

Good. I’m glad. Really. Because, you see I know lots of youth group graduates who have tossed out their past Christian faith like an old pair of shorts. I mean, these are kids who were in every youth activity the church could lure them into: beach trips, concerts, games, teams, fun, fun, fun….with a little Bible study in there, too. And when they were two years out of high school Jesus was old news fast. It’s like if they can’t have that old youth group party, with lots of entertainment, they want nothing to do with following Jesus. The church? Not for them unless it is ALL ABOUT THEM. Now that’s NOT what we want, is it? You wouldn’t be producing that kind of kid, right?

Isn’t it good we decided to have this little talk? I think so, too.

3. Can I ask you to do something for me? Could you read a book? Maybe two or three books. Good books of Bible, theology and the Christian life. Because, here’s the thing. I know you watch a lot of MTV and go to a lot of movies. I see your iPod and your CDs. I know you do a lot with music. And I’m sure all that time you spend “chillin'” with your friends and dates is important, but we’ve handed over our children to you, and frankly, when I stand outside your youth class and listen to what you are teaching them, I want to have you arrested.

I think you need to read a book, dude.

Yeah, you’re funny and irreverent. It’s a blast in your Bible study. The kids love the movie clips and the song excerpts. I’m sure the various lessons you teach from their favorite movies are holding their interest, but we’d all feel a lot better if you could teach the meaning of a book of the Bible, or explain some theology from the Bible, in a way that helped our kids actually trust the book for the truth they will need in years to come. We’ve made you into a teacher of some very impressionable minds. We need you to be prepared. Am I asking too much? Hey, we will buy the books for you. You just read them and get excited about what you want to teach. Ok?

4. We have to talk about this music situation. You may have noticed that a Sunday worship service at our church is not very similar to a nightclub mosh pit. Or to your favorite concert. We don’t have a really rockin’ band, and the contemporary music that we do use is pretty tame. But I notice you are teaching the kids all kinds of things to do in worship that our older people aren’t going to do, and you are telling the kids that if they really want to experience God they need to dance, and wave their hands, and shout, and so on. We’re all watching this, and if you could read our minds, you would be holding on to your paycheck.

You’ve had a lot of fun with the new projector screen, and we’ve all gotten used to your little- and not-so-little- talks before these youth-oriented worship songs, where we all learn that God has anointed this particular song to get the church out of bondage and into freedom. We’ve gotten used to stomping, screaming, swaying, and various body movements that our grandparents would have found a tad out of place in church. I just need to tell you something: You aren’t helping our church with this approach. You’re making us a divided and tense family, and you are teaching our kids a lot of wrong things about worship. You’re demanding that we change for the sake of entertainment. You’re teaching our kids that the music we love and use is worthless because it’s boring, and that we need to get excited about music we can’t relate to so that the worship service can be a youth event.

You’re on the wrong path here, and I’m asking you to consider what you are doing. You’re not acting like a minister of the church, or as someone who represents all of our church. You’re a cheerleader for youth culture and for your own preferences. You’re making fashion and trendiness more important than the unity of the body. You may have noticed that, for most of us, church music isn’t like any other kind of music. It’s special. It’s not entertainment. Some of your new music is OK. Some of it isn’t. What’s the real problem is your insistence that because you are up front with a guitar, you are rightly leading and teaching the whole church with the things you are doing. That’s not the case. The opposite is the case. You are dividing and belittling, not unifying and encouraging. Show some maturity and some sensitivity. We can bend. We need to be flexible. We need to be alive to the Spirit, but your agenda isn’t very spiritual. It’s very personal. Don’t insist that we bend till we break, and like it. Help us all worship together, as one church, even if we all have to compromise to get there.

5. You’ve asked a lot of parents this year. Money for several trips. Lots of food and transportation. Time and support. I think the parents have been generous. You’ve gotten everything you needed. So can I ask something of you? Could you communicate with them? Regularly. In detail. Could you be a professional in getting newsletters, calendars and information to those parents? They have busy lives and lots of demands. They are committed to supporting you. When you do things at the last minute, and don’t plan, they have to rescue you, because they want their kids in church. Be more mature around those parents. You aren’t a kid. You are an adult. Treat the adults who are the parents of your kids as adults want to be treated. Impress everyone in the church, not just the students. Be a model of someone who has embraced adulthood, not a model of someone avoiding it.

I’ll stop at five. I could write more. Maybe this is just part one. The point, for all you youth ministers out there, is that I’m saying some things to you that your church needs to say, but probably won’t say, because you are popular with the kids and they don’t want to seem unhappy with you. So I’m your daddy for a couple of pages. Take it, read it, get irritated at me, but believe me, these things are important. Pay attention.


  1. Thanks, as a youth worker / minister I appreciated that.

  2. Good article. But one query about your music views:

    I’m becoming more and more curious as to exactly what you think GOOD worship would be. I’ve heard (and resonated with) a lot of your condemnations of the sort of worship of emotionalism that tells us that forgiveness and changes of life come at big events with music-drenched speeches. But I am finding that there is a lot more (rightful) criticism of the pop ‘Christian’ worship-music culture than ideas about what it is that makes worship music fundamentally different than other music.

    I appreciate God who made music when I hear a well-crafted Mozart song; I even believe many of the humanistic themes of pop music songs tell the story of the fall decently well. Hymns such as “Come Thou Fount” or “Christ our Lord is Crucified” have reminded me of Biblical truths in many circumstances. But I have no consistent understanding about what worship ought to be.

    I feel that emotional expressions are always a part of music. That’s part of what differentiates music from sermons. David dancing before the Lord when he regained the Ark may be an overused example – but it is an example of music as an expression of (I can’t say the phrase without using a cheesy pop-Christian term) a passion not subject to propriety.

    I feel that intellectual truths about God and His kingdom are also a part of sermons. I don’t know where I would be today without lines from Hymns, early Caedmon’s Call songs, etc. These were songs that engaged the intellect, and deepened my theological understanding of God. “My faith is like shifting sand/so I stand on grace.” “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love/Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it/seal it for thy courts above.”

    I feel that there is a community in congregational singing, an acknowledgement of the shared journey we all have in being perfected by God.

    All that said, I still don’t know what worship music is; where worship music ends and commercialization and emotional manipulation begins.

    To end with a rather ironically-sourced quote:
    “It is not enough to rage against the lie. You’ve got to replace it with the truth.”
    -U2’s Bono

  3. Thanks, Michael. Just thanks.

  4. Rambler:

    The Reformed principle of regulated worship- see The Westminster Confession XXI- makes a lot of things quite clear. Check it out.

    Then my ideas on worship music are pretty well known.

    Even in this piece, I say that we need worship that includes everyone, and isn’t shaped around just one group. That’s pretty easy to understand isn’t it?

  5. Chris Stiles says

    Worship that includes everyone – does that mean that occasionally all of us feel out of our depth, or that none of us ever feel out of our depth?

    I think your points about youth leaders are well made – one of the things most churches don’t seem to realise is that most youth pastors (of that age) are still at the stage where they ‘imprint’ behaviour picked up from those around them, and nearly as much in need of a good role model – and advice – as the youth they lead.

    — chris

  6. I think that every church has to work- under the leadership of elders- for public worship to allow everyone to participate in good conscience, and not against their conscience.

    Christian worship cannot show the glory of God if it has no concern for unity.

    The current worship wars are premised that it is “our” style verus “your” style and let’s see whose style gets more butts in the seats.

    Biblical worship takes scripture and the cultural expressions of worship and crafts a simple, but reverent and accessible, worship service according to divine priorities.

    This is why the high church folks- who rarely change- tend to have it more right than the low churchers who reinvent everything every few years.

    We need to create a worship culture and grow it. Stay with it. Allow it to shape us, and not vice versa.

  7. Bob Mahlstedt says

    As a former Deacon and Board Member and Men’s Ministry leader, etc. etc., your thoughts are DIVINELY INSPIRED. Of course it’s easy for me to say that because I’ve had the exact same thoughts and wouldn’t want to attribute them to the devil (LOL).
    The sadest and truest part of what you said is, “I could write more.” Please DO!!!

  8. Brian Coffey says

    I really appreciate the toughts here. Point #1 is especially relevant in today’s churches. The act of willingly placing yourself in submission to the elders of the local church (in my view this includes the pastor) is far too rare. I think this consuming desire for popularity fuels this, as you have identified. It is easier to let a youth minister, sunday school teacher, or music leader “do their own thing” as long as it keeps people (youth or adults) in attendance. It is much harder, in the short term, to prayerfully identify a direction for the church AS A BODY and then invite people to get on board with that vision. But I think that is the more rewarding approach in the long run. You may not end up with the “impressive” numbers but the ones who do join in the vision are far less likely to jump ship to (as you say) “head for whatever three ring, mall-looking circus of a mega-church youth and college ministry does the best Dave Mathews Praise and Worship Band impersonation”.


  9. Creatorschilde says

    wow.. so many people I would love to hand this list to..
    a timely word indeed.

  10. Chris said, “Worship that includes everyone – does that mean that occasionally all of us feel out of our depth, or that none of us ever feel out of our depth?”

    Not to divert this thread too far off course, but I’d definitely say the former. We’re dealing with an infinite God in worship. C. S. Lewis once said that the Kingdom of God doesn’t fit any single political category, that different facets of it would offend every party. I think worship should be similar. There *should* be moments when the stolid uptight types (like me) should be uncomfortable. There should *also* be moments where the warm fuzzy crowd should feel uncomfortable. It’s the total one-sidedness of contemporary worship music that is the problem – and I think that problem is due in no small part to peoples’ expectations arising from the music they “grew up” with in youth ministries.

  11. I have no children, and I was not Christian at the age to be in a church youth group, so I’m wondering: what exactly is the purpose of church youth groups? I mean, churches existed for many centuries, with proportionately a much larger number of children and teens, without any such age-based groups that I know of. Do churches really need them, or is this just reflecting our age-stratified culture?

  12. That’s a great question, and I could easily write a piece called “Against Youth Ministry,” and may do so.

    But the fact is Camassia, that many (most) evangelical and even Catholic churches have specialized programs for youth. They may be extensive or occasional, and they are quite diverse. I could argue that there is no Biblical basis for age group ministries, but it would be an argument largely from silence (much like arguing against having a church sign or an annual retreat.)

    Given that most churches have chosen to have some age grouped outreach and education programming, I chose to write within that context.

    You are correct that a youth program can be part of an age separated ghetto, and a good youth program will work against that. It is not necessary to be an age segregated ghetto to have a youth group. They youth group can interact with all ages in the church.

    I think that a modest church youth program is justifiable, as long as Biblical priorities are kept in mind.

    Remember that many young people come from families where both parents aren’t present or there are no adults seriously trying to lead the Children in Christian nurture. The church can’t replace the family, but it can attempt to minister in some of the gaps left by families that aren’t there or aren’t doing their callings.

  13. Benjamin Nitu says

    Hi to all!
    This is all good and nice, but what do you do with a church that thinks that there is no need for a youth minister ? A church that has over 100 teens.
    What can be done? The previous generation is gone, less than a quarter are still coming.
    If nothing happens really quick, this generation will starve too.
    So, in a way I’m happy for those that at least have a youth minister.
    We need young mature youth ministers. ( this might sound like an oxymoron )
    Spurgeon was 20 something when he start preaching in London, Calvin was 20 something when we wrote his most important work.
    For every youth minister that is out there: God bless you. The youth needs you. Be responsible, you will one day answer to God. But, the reward is great: when you see a teen not compromising in his life and growing in Christ.
    I just hope and pray the leadership of my church wakes up.

  14. Today’s 20 somethings aren’t in the mold of Spurgeon, that’s for sure. But I agree with you. A church should provide for ministry to its children. A “youth program,” however, should get the kids into the church and its worship, etc, not just take them out or shape them into a separate church. For a lot of church’s its an entertainment program masquerding as ministry.

    That’s why I say get to a church where the pastor and elders want a youth minister and will supervise that position.

  15. Printed, framed and hanging on my office door.

    Thanks, Imonk!

  16. i appreciated reading this article. i have been a youth pastor for three years now and appreciate the advice.

    but i must say, you do realize that there are some women who are youth pastors as well, right? it’s not just a boys club anymore. you may want to make sure that when you write pieces you don’t just assume that everyone in the business is male.

  17. I’m an English teacher by day, and I do realize that I have sinned enormously in this article.

    And yes, I have noticed the female of the species loose in the profession. And generally doing a far better job. That’s part of why I decided to go with the politically incorrect male version only in this piece.

  18. LefthechurchfoundJesus says

    Hi Michael,

    I read your stuff and find it reflective and thoughtful. But there are some times when the stuff you write is down right out in the left field.

    I’m not trying to pick on you (though we Christians excel in that area)…but since this is the internet and you allow comments, here is my two cents.

    This me, speaking from my experience.

    I have to sadly say that most of the kids from my youth group…well, we pretty much all fell away. Including the pastor’s own son. It is heart-breaking to even write/confess this anonymously.

    As much as I dislike (hate? loathe? feel pukey?) church I grew up, as much I have grists to grind and axes to sharpen…I cannot testify that the youth pastor was the cause of the “youth group graduates who have tossed out their past Christian faith like an old pair of shorts.”

    The sad truth is if anything caused us to lose our faith, it was our parents. Yes, our parents. They dumped their biblical responsibility to someone else. They enforced the legalism of the church and misinterpretation of Christ’s mission. We needed someone who we could look up to model God’s truth, but the truth is, the very sad truth is that our parents didn’t.

    If we were taught fearful doctrines about the end of the world instead of the beauty of God’s salvation…who was there to tell us there was more to God than clapping our hands and the rapture and apocalypse? Especially if the pastor himself emphasized taught and emphasized these things and our parents who reinforced it by attending.

    I think there is reason God tells parents to teach their kids. He tells them to bind truth and explain his word. If our parents aren’t even doing their basic duty, it is no wonder many youth group atendees graduates lose their faith.

  19. Can you hear me from out here in left field?

    By writing some things Youth ministers ought to hear, I am not “blaming” them and exonerating parents. That’s a strange way to read this piece. In those three decades, I did note some parents failing to disciple their kids. Just a few. (Heavy sarcasm. Not sure you will catch it, as I am out here in left field.)

    Of course, your alias somewhat gives away your stance on what would be a viable ministry to kids: Abandon Church, Find Jesus?

  20. At least in the seminary I went to, these five things (or something quite similar) were emphasized for people going into ANY type of assistant pastorate (and most of them go for senior pastors as well, though it’s hard for him to mentor and evaluate himself). It’s not just the youth-guys who need job descriptions, accountability, and mature understandings of the mission of the church.

  21. First off, I’ve only started reading your site recently, but I’ve really come to enjoy it. Thanks, iMonk.

    Second, I’ve never quite figured out the pastoral hierarchy, if such a thing really exists. But from the way some pastors talk, it sounds like after an aspiring pastor graduates and gets ordained, he starts with youth. He has to put in some cursory amount of time with them and then maybe he can move up in the church, or find a position at another church as an assistant pastor, or maybe even a pastorate at a small church. Then he transfers and finds a job at a bigger church and onward and upward until he’s Joel Osteen or Rick Warren. Maybe this isn’t the way it is at every church, but even your article assumes you’re addressing a 24-year-old youth pastor.

    So why is it that way? Is it because you want to keep the youth pastor as young as possible so the youth have someone to relate to? Is it because no one really wants to be a youth pastor, and thus it’s given to the newbie as just part of the promotion track, like starting in the mail room at a corporate job? Is it because you only want the seasoned veteran pastor to be leading the church as a whole, but the youth are lower priority so they don’t need someone as experienced, knowledgeable, or wise? Or because only people in their mid-20s to early-30s are going to want to be youth pastors? I’ve never quite figured that out.

    For my own experience, I grew up in a small church and the youth leaders were parents of one of the kids in the group with me. We still did lots of fun stuff, but they also had the maturity to stress Bible study and prayer. Your five points didn’t apply to them at all. There was no “us vs. them,” “our music vs. their music,” “youth leader vs. parents.” They were our parents’ age. They were friends with our parents. Our music was the church’s music. We had no special youth band or anything and we didn’t know we were missing it.

    It wasn’t until college, and the churches I’ve attended since then that I’ve come to know what having a youth pastor is like, and I still don’t quite understand it. Any light anyone can shed would be appreciated.

  22. Benjamin Nitu says

    Thanks for the reply Michael.
    Yeah, I know that will be the easy solution … move on.
    But what will happen to those kids? I do care about them. My little sister is one of them.
    I think I’m deceiving myself believing that something will change, I know others think the same in our church.
    I agree with you, we don’t need entertaiment, we need Christ. The youth has the energy, but not the wisdom.
    You think that if we ( the people that see this need in the church ) gather and try to talk to the leadership will change anything ? Or will this only make things worst?

  23. Derek,

    By and large, the way you described your youth grou is exactly the way to do it. Full-Time, Professional Youth Ministers (hereunto refered to as “FTPYM”) have a tendancy to think we’re so professional and so full-time that we make the mistake of thinking “This is MY show, and the parents just need to get out of my way,” which causes a lot of friction. I know I made that mistake a year ago when I started, and I’m still working out all the problems that caused.

    The FTPYM stays young because there’s the mistaken belief that a youth will relate to a young pastor better than some 80-year old codger (which I think is partially true). There’s also something to be said for a lot of middle-aged parents and volunteers thinking they don’t have the energy to do the job, which simply isn’t true at all. Ah, but add a FTPYM that shares a vision of discipleship and true ministry to your scenario and there’s no stopping you.

    There was no “us vs. them” in your situation because there was no polarizing figure for the kids to rally around. They worked in and with the congregation. What you got as a youth ministry was the exception that proves the rule.

    Frankly, I would kill to have the people you mentioned. My parents are equally divided between people who can’t see why we’re doing Bible study instead of the GA Nat’l Fair (a true conversation I once had) and those who are wondering why we’re not reading Tillich’s Systematics yet. So, on one level, I see Michael’s points and raise him a dollar; what happens when the parents want what you say we shouldn’t be doing?

  24. How much time you got?

    Every job I ever had I was hired by parents to play with their kids. I had a guy go to war with the pastor to fire me because I geared down the sports and geared up missions and discipleship. I had a guy offer to build a rec center if I would leave.

    In my two full time youth positions I had to convert the parents by bringing in older, non-parents of teenager adults to be my youth sponsors. Then, after a few years, the parents were all over it. No guys….I have my purple hearts.

    Keep our kids interested, out of jail and not pregnant. I’ve confronted parents over buying booze for their kids. I’ve confronted parents over allowing sexual activity between teens at the house,. I’ve been with parents to tell them their daughter was pregnant…done that several times, and was blamed more than once.

    But I totally agree that serious adults in the church are the best Youth ministers, and I believe a good YM ought to work him/herself out of the job and get the parents in charge. Amen.

  25. Michael-

    I’ve been a regular for over a year and never commented before. But thank you for your astute observations, I am one of the few youth pastors in my area doing all five and more and that is not really what many are doing in the big churches around here. I teach, systematically, verse by verse, I tackle issues that are hard for teens to talk about, “should you date or not” and I desperately try to connect them with the “older” adults and make them connected with the church, not a seperate “youth group”. It’s a lot tougher than just doing games all the time, but it’s worth it to see youth that can hold their own in most any Bible discussion because they have been taught. Teens need to be “equipped”-Ephesians 4:12 and I study just as much as any pastor so that I can make sure that I do that.

  26. Stay with it Al. Great report. Thank God for your church and your kids.

  27. I think one of the hardest things is that churches themselves have created the youth pastor mentality of “cool, hip, young guy who entertains and keeps the youth busy and out of trouble”. One of the men I respect most in my life was my own youth pastor, the one who God used to show me my place in ministry. He did these five points, and was chewed up and spit out by the very system he tried to work in. Do I wish he would have kept going? Oh yes – he was one of the best men i ever knew. But he’s now a high school teacher (no offense, imonk) who never wants to do full or even part time ministry ever again. It’s hard to do these things, the right things, when you have the entire system fighting against you.

  28. Brilliant post. I would have said many of the same things.

    In my own experience, growing up in a youth group, I would say my biggest peeves about them (other than those you mentioned) would be:

    (1) A huge lack of education. I’ve seen (and, unfortunately, been) the other extreme of a pastor who wanted to fix everyone’s theology; but more often than not my pastors knew nothing other than cool games and tunes, and could (and did) share little about God with me.

    (2) No mentoring or discipling. At all. There wasn’t time and there were too many kids. None of them held me accountable for my bad behavior. Consequently it got pretty bad.

    (3) Commandments weren’t depicted as God trying to make our lives better; commandments were used to get us to stay in line with parents and pastors.

    (4) Youth pastors who, as Derek pointed out, looked at youth ministry as a stepping stone to something bigger. As a result, in four years of high school, I had five youth leaders. Stability might be a good idea.

    And—this is not a peeve, but since Shannon brought it up—it was particularly rough on me the summer that we had a female youth leader. We had nothing but pool parties that summer; she wore a very modest bathing suit; but she was gorgeous and I was seventeen and I can’t remember a thing she ever said. I’m not saying women shouldn’t lead youth; I’m saying pastors had better keep their eyes open for all the ways they affect the youth.

  29. LeftthechurchfoundJesus says

    Just for the record…I do not entertain the idea for the youth “abandon church, find Jesus?” for the youth… While I did not find Jesus at my church, I learned about being moral. I think learning about morality was a good thing and helped me a lot in life.

  30. Well written, Michael.
    Unfortunately, I suggest that you increase your intended audience to include “former” youth pastors. I have observed a couple of churches in recent days that are led by former youth pastors who really, really need to read this.
    They are crippling formerly healthy churches by chasing music and entertainment in the name of…well…they violate point #4 by ignoring point #2.
    You suggest that they read books. Suggest that they also read books by authors who aren’t Rick Warren.

  31. “(4) Youth pastors who, as Derek pointed out, looked at youth ministry as a stepping stone to something bigger. As a result, in four years of high school, I had five youth leaders. Stability might be a good idea.”

    I was yute leader/pastor (unpaid/volunteer!) for 4 years. I had the same group of guys for all four of those years. One went on to become a youth pastor and was recently “encouraged” to leave. He had only been there for a couple of years. He lamented that even though he got to “know” the kids he didn’t “know” them.

    When I was seeking full-time ministry I knew I would never want to be a senior pastor. I told those interviewing me that I really wanted to work with youth and had no desire to rise up the church ladder…it held no attraction to me. This was a stumbling block for many who interviewed me as they expected me to eventually take over the Assoc. Pastor spot in a few years.

    They couldn’t understand someone wanting to be a yute pastor for more than a few years…

    Kudos to those who stick it out and make a difference by NOT leaving the kids for the “big” church…


  32. The sad thing is… the people who really know the bible and are knowledgeable on the subject matter would never win the confidence of a kid who needs to hear the truth, because of egotism, pride, and shame of their past. They feel they are not good enough and can not handle the responsibility that concides in being a youth pastor. Because they are forwarned of the dangerous possibilities ahead that Satan could attack, they willingly give the job to the “confused and misguided leader” who blindly goes where every other man has fallen. Is it the misguided leader’s fault or the stronger christian men who never accept their true Christian mission from God? It’s easy to pinpoint one or the other or even to say Both, but at what point does the misguided youth pastor turn into the overconfident christian who accepts no responsibility of others and also the overconfident christian who accepts no responsibility of others and turns into the misguided youth leader…

    I think the key concept of the youth pastor job that I learned was the concept that the youth pastor’s job is to teach the fundamental teachings of the church and instil in them the weapons of warefare that they will need to survive in a merciless world that cares not about them or what they stand for, but what they can get out of the relationship for selfish desires and motives (all before they meet Christ).

    How do you train a pack of wild beast (youth) 20 or so when there is one or two pieces of meat (decent christian kids) who are being corrupted by the very nature of the pack of wolve in the process. Is it easy to say bring more wolves to the pack, the lessons will justify the cravings you seek everytime…. or is it foolish to think that. Do you take 4-5 pieces of meat and turn them into strong christians… alienating the 20 pack of wolves who care less about God but still need God.

    Pastors and Deacons are very wise. They realize that through 40 years of problems and discussions that they have failed to reach a generation that is much more complex and much more unstable because they failed….. and failed miserably.

    When people focus on music or games, or fun or anything like that they miss the key concept. Winning people to the Lord… teach people how to pick up a bible and beat Satan over the pitchfork with it everytime he attacks us, telling your friend that he should have sex with his girlfriend, because as a Christian you are looking out for his best interests. Telling your best guy/gal friends that you are abstaining from sex (and for the illiterate) that means saving your entire life for the one person you love more than any almost good enough worldy christian way cycle of life.

    This arguement is like a Chess match… you say this, well how about that… you say that and I said but you said this to begin with.

    From all my studies in life, Pastors and Deacons need to spend time with their kids. Stand up for them when they are hurting and Satan has gotten the best of them for that day. Tell them they love them and that even they failed in life too. However, the key concept to a Church is that the spiritual leaders teach the young wolves that yes, even I am a wolf, but I am a tamed wolf. I had to give up my wild ways, even to this day. I have all the wolf instincts, all the wolf desires, but my life is so much better now… and this is why. What if all the pastors an deacons and elders and clergymen, and pewsitters, and occasional guests would all get on their knees and tell their kids they are sorry they put their children in a world of misery like it is now! And beg them to listen to them not because they told them not to, but because if they don’t they will turn out just like their parents and if not like their parents then just like their future kids. Sin is inherited Genetically (the suceptability of it)… our parents and grandparents sins are more prone for vulnerability than other sins….

    So… to end my email, I leave with a simple verse in the bible.

    Romans 8:28
    (King James Version)

    28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

    (The Message)
    28That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

    (Reina-Valera 1960)
    28 Y sabemos que a los que aman a Dios, todas las cosas les ayudan a bien, esto es, a los que conforme a su propósito son llamados

    Hopefully one of these three versions of the bible, will illustrate the greatness of God to you. With much love and adieu, I thank you for the inspiration from much enjoyed reading.

    P.S. You don’t have to be 50 to be smart, I am only 22.

  33. Thanks Michael. That was a very good post. I am greatly impressed by the emphasis laid on being accountable under someone. Very well said. – It even works well for every believer to do so.

    There is absolutely a lot to talk about on this topic.

    I think most of what is needed for youth ministers is already given to us. I can’t see how anyone would not read, and read and read over the lines of the letter written by Apostle Paul to Timothy who was young in his responsibilities. Those pages hold a lot of wisdom in them.

    And the important message to be under the council of someone who is over us.

  34. Michael,

    As usual, so much to chew on among another great piece of writing. Though I personally think you’re overly harsh on CCM as a whole, I respect it and certainly agree that a significant portion of CCM is treading dangerous waters along the lines of your concers. Thank you again Michael for another thought provoking article.


  35. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Reading all this stuff makes me wonder if youth pastoring has changed a lot in fifteen years or something. When I was sixteen I ended up at an Assemblies of God church where the youth pastor did topical sermons and would often cite as many as fifteen to twenty passages covering the topic. After a while he started a Sunday school series for the youth group covering a basic introduction to exegesis and hermeneutics. He wasn’t exactly the most personable man but we had breakfast a time or two and he suggested I read Gordon Fee, Francis Schaeffer, and Solzhenitsyn. He also said that as long as I stuck with stuff like his meditations on Christian love and not his apologetics that Kierkegard had great stuff, too, notwithstanding what other Christians might say.

    That youth pastor is now the senior pastor at a church up here in the northwest and the older I get, and the more I read about the kind of stuff iMonk sees and hears, the more I realize God put a VERY unusual “youth pastor” in my life at the right time.

    I recently sent him an email thanking him for being a good teacher of Scripture. Since I’m basically Reformed now he and I might not agree on a number of things but I feel blessed by God that he got the important stuff down, that Jesus is Lord and we must serve Him with our minds as well as our hearts (something other youth pastors I met were never good at expressing).

  36. Jeremiah Lawson says

    For those who happen to be in youth groups where the youth pastor really does dig deep into Scripture and helps you learn how to interpret Scripture thank them. My old youth pastor once asked my brother and I if we were getting anything out of his survey of interpreting biblical literature because the head pastors thought he was crazy to expect so much of the youth group. We told him to go full-steam because if no one else loved learning the stuff we did. That was apparantly enough for him to keep going.

  37. Brilliant.

  38. Thanks Michael for a very potent and cogent post! As a former youth counselor (lay leader) for Junior and Senior High youth, I’ve seen first hand what can happen when ‘happy clappy’ gets involved. At a former church, I was pushed out of Sr Youth work by a ‘happy clappy’ type. He let them do what they wanted, even to the detriment of the faith, had parties, etc at his house, far more fun than spiritual leadership. Scheduled things at haphazardly at the last minute. Ended up that almost none of the kids he worked with stayed in the church…in fact, he was nearly arrested for embezzlement by the congregation and nearly his whole spiritual life was a sham. 5 years later one of his (and my) former kids told me, “We should have listened to you…you had our spiritual development on your heart. You wanted to teach us. We saw fun and games with him and that’s what we wanted.”

  39. “I think you need to read a book, dude.”

    All attempts at humor aside, if you throw a list of things to do at fellow believer, you might try treating them with respect as an adult and servant of Christ in the ministry instead of insulting them. Insulting people is never a good way to get anyone to listen to what you have to say, whether the content is true or not.

    “You are dividing and belittling, not unifying and encouraging. Show some maturity and some sensitivity.”

  40. Thanks for the criticism Josh.

  41. Point #2 really hits home. Oddly, my experience with that was in college rather than high school.

    My HS youth group was fabulous. The town was too small for most churches to have their own youth groups, so several banded together. This ecumenical group had a husband and wife youth minister team who both discussed real theological ideas with us. We discussed our differences and what was essential in our unity (Christ). We read C.S.Lewis and discussed Christian themes in current books and movies. They also got us involved in service. Every fall we winterized the homes of every parishioner who was elderly and needed that help and we did clean up for them every spring. We volunteered at soup kitchens and raised money to go build homes in poorer parts of the world. Our big ‘entertainment and fellowship event’ was the summer service trip to plant trees and volunteer at a clinic in Haiti. I learned that that is infinitely more rewarding than concerts and socials of whatever stripe. I still consider that to have been the best experience of church I’ve ever had and it has left me indelibly imprinted with the idea that a church that isn’t very actively involved in serving the ‘least of these’ is one I am not interested in joining.

    So of course I went off to college thinking I would find exactly this same sort of youth group on campus, but on maybe an even larger scale. Boy, was I wrong.

    Most were the sort you have described – all happy clappy narcissitic entertainment-centered. Others were so into the idea that they were Really Saved and the rest of campus was Satan’s territory, that they felt a bit cult-like (not to mention that their bible studies were shallow as a single raindrop). After 2 years of searching I eventually found two youth groups that did care about both in-depth bible study and service: the local RCC youth and the Hillel (Jewish student group). And so I became the sole Protestant in both groups until graduation, (although I did find in my last year a very nice ecumenical Protestant prayer group). I’m sure everyone is very unhappy with me for not converting everyone in those two groups, but frankly it’s really a bit amazing that I never formally joined one or the other of them. I certainly considered it seriously on more then one occasion – not because anyone in either tried to convert me, but because so many people in both were so clearly devoted to loving and serving God and serious about growing in their faith in Him. In short, I saw more evidence of what the Methodists call santification in most members of both groups than among any in the various Protestant groups around.

    I suppose this goes to show that a great youth group in the teen years can leave you wondering/wandering too if you’re left with a desert of typical ones later on. And it makes a lot of churches seem pretty stale too. But it did give me something to cling to as far as an idea of what a community serving God ought to be like and the desire to find that or help create it wherever I went. Sadly, when I did find something close a few years ago, we ended up with a *senior* pastor who went for a D.Div. and got all caught up in the church growth fad and came back to make nearly all the mistakes you warn youth ministers about in your article. Fortunately, the church came through it and we are climbing back up from falling over the edge of that cliff now.

  42. Michael,

    The book you want to write, “Against Youth Ministry” (in response to Camissa, way up) has already been written:

    “Critique of Modern Youth Ministry,” by Chris Schlect. Canon Press.

  43. I am a 24 year old youth pastor. Well I just turned 24 right about the same time I finished my first year as a full time youth minister and I have to say that I really appreicate what Michael said. This is the first time I’ve seen this site. A friend of mine sent this article to me and I’m glad he did. I’d like to think that I have for the last year been trying to do each of these five points, but as I’m sure all of you know intentions aren’t everything. I’m sure I could come up with many ways in which I have failed all of these points.

    What I would really like to know is if anyone had any advice on how to encourage teens to do the kind of deep hard core Biblical learning that you all keep describing. When I first got to my ministry I started a guys small group study and we went through “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. The senior minister said it was probably to much for these guys, but I believed that even if it was too hard they would still learn by being stretched even if they didn’t understand everything. Well in one kid it worked becasue he was the only one who read the book. I didn’t think I was asking too much seeing as that each chapter is 4 or less pages (part of the reason why I chose the book in the first place)and I would only assign one chapter a week, but for some reason it was too much. Every week guys would come to my apartment and I would ask “So what was the chapter about?” And usually I would get blank stares. I would beg them to read the book, I reminded them at chruch I started calling some of them during the week to reminde them. I even wrote out basic outlines of the chapters so they could look at those and see the main points and how they connected with previous chapters and still they wouldn’t read. Finally I gave up and I temporarly disbanded the group. I’m starting it up again, but I’m worried about the same results.

    I looked to my Sunday School class as a way to inpart deep Bible knowledge, but wheather I spent a great deal of time and study in prepairing a lesson or hardly any at all it didn’t matter because I might have two out of a potential 7 kids show up to my class (this is a High School age class by the way) and it’s never the same two kids. So how do I teach anything indepth when I have to spend each class reviewing what they missed the previous week? I can’t!

    Am I sounding upset? Because I am. I didn’t get into youth ministry because I wanted to play games. I got into this job so I could teach kids about Christ and so I could show them the love of Christ that so many of them are lacking, but how can I move beyond the basics when none of the kids are willing to do so? I can teach till I’m blue in the face, but if the kids don’t want to learn it wont matter a bit. Any teacher can tell you that. I’m not planning on getting out of youth ministry and frankly I hope I never do. Because despite these frusterations I still want to teach teens about Christ, but I could really use some advice on how to get them desiring to put in a little sweat when it comes to learning instead of me spoon feeding them all of the time.


  44. Hi Michael,
    Our church is curremtly in search of a youth pastor. Thanks for the insights in your article.
    It was well written and I will certainly be passing it on to our Christian Ed. Dept who are currently doing the search.


  45. this post assumes so many things, belittles so many people, and is intensely patronizing.

    i’m a youth pastor (well, Pastor of Christian Education), seminary-educated, called, and capable. i’m not sure which messed-up youth pastor in your life you’ve aimed this toward, but it seems very situational and perhaps is true only in suburban, protestant bubbles where lots of people go to church? i live in Brooklyn, NY, and work in the Jewish hegemony of Long Island. i’m thrilled when a homeless kid gets a meal or when i find out a girl in my sunday school class doesn’t have a soccer game scheduled this sunday morning (Saturday is shabbat on Long Island) i don’t think i’ve ever tried to “be cool” with the kids in my church like the specific (and strange) youth pastor your post describes.

    …ya know, there are many points i would love to dispute here, but the tone is just so patronizing (and angry?) i don’t think i’ll take the time.

    peace to you.

  46. Nathan,

    Thanks for reading. Sorry you were offended.

    I assure you I’m not angry. I’m, as I have been for five years, being a bit provocative. If you’ve never met anyone who needed a bit o’ a smack upside-uh the head in youth ministry, then great.

    But it’s entirely possible that someone- maybe more than one- needs some straight talk, and having been a knucklehead in youth ministry enough to know the gig, I decided to pen a piece that said a few things in a “Do I have your attention yet?” tone.

    There is a time for classroom affirmation- “You’re all little flowers”- and a time for the drill instructor to get your attention before you make a fool of yourself.

    My writing isn’t an attempt to meet your standards. It’s an attempt to get people to think and consider a different point of view. I’m just standing on my desk. You’re welcome to stand on yours.


  47. CH steveprost says


    Outstanding post from my view as 40 yr old Reformed minister (who prefers “contemporary” worship music so long as there is depth rather than fluff in the lyrics, but learned long ago its not about my preferences when leading corporate worship) who’s worked with large and small church staffs.

    Didn’t take your tone as patronizing or angry, but entertaining in the “schtick” and persona of a drill seargent who explained beforehand how you’ve earned your stripes to talk like you did. Keep it up: blogs aren’t read for politically correct speech careful to offend noone and making boring tedious qualifications for every phrase and thought (even God talks in generalities in the bible) instead of well-written stylistic entertaining heartfelt practical intelligent thoughts as you are at sundry times prone to write. I’m sure a hundreds church subsector-cultures exist like Nathan’s to whom your post is inapplicable, as a discerning reader would understand that you understand well; but obviously your post struck chords with so many as so valuable because it hit the bullseye and rang true for probably the majority of evangelical churches that do hire full-time youth pastors.

  48. iMonk. i wasn’t offended, i was just confused about your tone and the specific nature of the tirade.

    you didn’t address the things i brought up about how your complaints (drill sargeant reprimand? or something? sorry, i’m not in the military, i’m in the ministry) seem only to address seemingly suburban Megachurchianity. out here in the world, outside the safe walls of southern religiosity, we praise the efforts of people who answer the call and take vows of poverty, dedicating their lives to teaching young people about Christ.

    if i ever slip into one of your circles and notice the strange and selfish youth pastor your post describes, i might have a different perspective on the whole thing. it seems your culture affords youth pastors the luxury of selfishness. perhaps this should be examined?

    and, on the point i made about how the post assumes many things… i work currently with a “head pastor” who would be a terrible mentor. he’s not “the man” and turning to him for guidance would be foolish. i pray for him daily, that Christ would soften his heart, but taking refuge under his wing just because he’s the head pastor? no thanks. i choose to stay here at this church and not flee it, as you suggest, because i believe i am the only CHristlike influence in these kids’ lives. like i said, here in my neighborhood everyone is Jewish or atheist (or agnostic) and so for me to leave as you suggest would be to abandon lives who would then have nobody.

    i think it all comes down to culture difference. i have been ironically rather patronizing in my assessment of your situation, i know 🙂 probably because i think you really need to hear the message that your complaints really are situational to your context.

    and, i stand on my own desk at my blog. you have a comments section, and the majority of people who post here seem to blow sunshine in your face, so i thought i’d challenge what i found to be challenge-worthy material. feel free to do the same on my desk anytime.

  49. Nathan,

    >and so for me to leave as you suggest would be to abandon lives who would then have nobody.

    Let me clear. I am not telling you to leave your job. I don’t know you. If you believe you are the only Christlike influence at your church and that you have God’s blessing despite your lack of support to or from your pastor, by all means stay. I am not judging you.


  50. Noticably absent is the suggestion that youth pastors need to be about winning lost young people. Why is so much stuff always from the point of view of youth-ministry-for-church-kids? Can we suggest that youth pastor could become youth missionary?