Caricatures of youth pastors are comical, even if they are unfair. Ignatius tops the list, but I bet you could imagine your own. The funny thing is, from rock stars to game experts, there are few youth pastor stereotypes that include pastoral responsibilities.
“I think youth ministry perpetuates my immaturity,” one youth pastor friend told me. Yet he rigorously studied biblical languages and led a God-centered, non-programmatic youth ministry.
At one extreme, there are youth pastors want to grow up. They disdain the inherent barriers toward maturation that characterize their ministry. At the other end of the spectrum, there are many youth pastors who embrace the immaturity of a fun-and-games ministry. In between these two extremes lie guys who, if they enjoy any growth as pastors, primarily do so within the boundaries of youth ministry.
Youth pastors can’t stay young forever, nor should they want to. What I’d like to suggest in this article is that the best way to mature youth pastors is give them responsibilities outside youth ministry.
Is the pastor a specialist or a generalist?
Part of this issue pertains to how pastors are deployed in the congregation. Some churches utilize pastors as specialists. In this case, the pastor is hired for a specific aspect of ministry within the church, and has little responsibility outside that role. Other churches use pastors as generalists. Each pastor serves the church at large and carries a similar title, though probably has particular responsibilities appropriate to one’s gifts.
At College Church, we function with a hybrid between specialists and generalists. We are specialists because we each have different titles that designate us over a particular ministry within the church. In addition to our Senior Pastor, we have pastors over jr. high (yours truly!), missions, high school, Christian education, congregational care, etc.
But our pastors are not partitioned off from the broader church body. We each preach occasionally in Sunday morning and evening services. We each have a day where we visit people in the hospital. We each have a shut-in that we make contact with once a month, including administering the Lord’s Supper. Three weeks out of the month, we each have responsibilities in our worship services, whether that be announcements, prayer, or something else.
Broader exposure raises the bar
My exposure to the wider scope of ministry in my church has been the biggest catalyst for my pastoral growth.
No other church I’ve been a part of has offered that kind of opportunity to their jr. high pastors.
Furthermore, how many churches do you think expect their jr. high pastors to be able to minister to the church on that level?
I don’t say this to brag about me. When I started here at College Church I was petrified of all the duties listed above. The first thing I had to do during a Sunday morning service was the Scripture reading. I almost blacked out six verses into it.
I am bragging about my church, though. Their expectations of what each pastor ought to be and do – regardless of whom they minister primarily to – forced me to raise my pastoral game. I’ll be thankful for this the rest of my life.
Why it’s good for youth pastors to branch out
I’m suggesting that you expand your youth pastor’s responsibilities outside of the youth ministry itself in order to help him mature as a pastor. Here are some ways this has benefited me:
1. Whenever you are stretched beyond your comfort zone, you grow. Regular exposure outside youth ministry has had this effect on me.
2. New situations have allowed me to discover latent gifts that I didn’t know I had. Then I put those strengths to work in student ministries.
3. Weddings, funerals, and administering the sacraments regularly remind me of the gravity of gospel ministry. Quite frankly, this can get lost during a round of Shuffle Your Buns.
4. For better or for worse, I try harder when I teach adults. Ideally, I’d preach my best every week for my students, but it doesn’t always happen. But the several times I’ve taught in our corporate services I have improved in my preaching, which carries over into my regular preaching for my students.
Are you a youth pastor who wants to develop as a pastor? Ask for – or take – these kinds of opportunities. If you’re not a youth pastor, does your youth pastor want to raise his game? Do you want to see him grow (perhaps in ways he’d prefer not to!)? Get him some gospel opportunities with some post-pubescent people.