6 Ways Churches Kill Youth Ministry (and Youth Ministers)

My friend and fellow blogger Kent Sanders recently posted a great article entitled “The Perfect Worship Leader (Doesn’t Exist).” It was a great read and you totally should check it out. It also proved inspirational, as I thought about the insane expectations churches sometimes place on churches. So, if you are a senior pastor or oversee paid youth ministry staff, you may take a minute to read the following. If you’re a youth minister, you may want to forward this to your friends for a chuckle (or a good cry.)

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1. Expect a young guy you’re barely paying to perform like a well-paid ministry veteran–or, pay a ministry veteran like you would a young gal

It is unfair to expect a 22 year old with a summer internship under his belt to perform like a fifteen year youth ministry veteran. If you don’t have much money to hire someone, either don’t hire someone or manage your expectations. Likewise, paying a fifteen year veteran like it’s their first ministry is insulting. Pay the person, not the position. A recent college grad is not the same as a dude with a wife and three kids.

2. Hire someone to “hang out with the kids” and ALSO expect them to run a big program. 

If you’re going to expect a youth minister to run four or five programs per week, understand it takes time to do those well. They probably won’t have time to be over at the school every day for lunch. If they’re at the church three nights a week for programming and elder’s meeting the fourth night, they’d probably appreciate hanging out with their spouse or kids the other nights. Asking them to go to every Jr. High volleyball game and choir concert on the schedule is kinda unfair.

3. Ask them to develop other leaders and expect them to do everything themselves

A smart leader (youth ministry or otherwise) spends time developing other leaders. In a healthy growth situation, even the best leader cannot handle everything by themselves. So don’t demand the youth minister to teach every class. If she wants to do small groups instead of teach in a large group setting, let her. She’s not lazy. She’s developing leaders like you asked her to.

4. Have two sets of rules: one for student ministry and another for everyone else

A lot of churches expect the youth ministry to grow as a vibrant place that students love to be. They expect excitement and enthusiasm and teenagers by the hundreds. They hold the youth minister accountable for a lack of growth and critique every aspect of the youth ministry. Meanwhile, the student ministry budget is $2,000 a year and the old folk’s group just scored a new $70,000 bus for their annual trip to Branson.

Better still, expect your youth minister to create a super fun experience and then get mad when a light gets broken or the carpet gets stained or there’s a hole in the wall.

Seriously?

5. Make your youth minister your I.T. guy, social media guru, and Associate Minister of Miscellaneous

Most youth ministers I know are happy to help the church however they can. But every hour you use your youth minister outside of youth ministry is an hour they don’t spend on youth ministry. Stop demanding them to have the best youth ministry in town if what you really want is the best website in town. Or hire them help so they can be free to serve in other areas.

6. Outsource your youth ministry

A lot of places hire a youth minister, give them a budget, stick them in the basement and call it a day. It’s like manufacturing in China. No input or cooperation from the whole church, just critique when it doesn’t look quite like you thought it should. Don’t alienate your youth minister by banishing them to do their own mini-church. If you do, don’t expect them to still be eager to take six weeks off of their well-thought-out series aimed at students to do your all-church emphasis on finances. Instead, involve students all the time. Integrate them into the overall strategy of the church. Don’t exclude. Walk alongside.

There’s much more that could be added to the list, and every youth minister reading this has a short list running through their mind as they read. That leads to the most important point: listen to your people. Ask them what’s frustrating to them about how your church handles the youth ministry.

You hired the gal or guy you hired because you saw something meaningful and expert-like in them. You may not know best. So you were a youth minister 20 years ago? Awesome. I was in junior high twenty years ago–that doesn’t mean I know anything about being one now. Trust the people you saw enough in to hire.

There are no perfect youth ministers. Celebrate strengths, encourage (and fund!) development in areas of weakness. Youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. Stop yelling at your student pastor to go faster unless you’re ready for this to be their last lap.


 

Titus Benton is a student pastor in Texas at Current – A Christian Church where (happily) none of the frustrating things listed above are true.

5 comments

  1. Well said Titus.

    This is why a formal “Student Ministry Plan” is “mission critical” for a growing church. By using a formal business planning process: Opportunities have Strategies, which in alignment with available Resources create Realistic Goals, which drive Action Plans, that leverage the available Resources. If the Ministry is doing all the Tasks as defined under the agreed Action Plan, there is no disconnect on the best use of time, money, or resources. No frustration about what takes priority. No confusion about Goals. No confusion about Senior Leadership support of Tasks since that support is defined, budgeted and committed.

    May I offer some Opportunities I see:

    1) Bringing Youth to Christ,
    2) Primary Lessons of the Bible,
    3) “God and Family Values”
    4) “How to Live a Righteous Life In An Unrighteous World”
    5) “How to Save the Spiritual Life of Your Best Friend”
    6) “How to Have Clean Fun”
    7) “Being a Blessing to Others” (Missions)
    8) Finding and learning from “Godly Life Heroes”
    9) How Your Generation Will “Change the World”
    10) “Finding Your Life’s True Meaning”

    The list in likely, much, much, more. I realize there are also reactionary and housekeeping items like: intervention, comfort in crisis, counseling, organizational, structural, etc. At a blush, if the SM was able to do even 7 of these well, they would need more support than I believe is available now. Why is that support not at hand?

    A very busy position indeed…and one that deserves ample respect. In mid-sized business, this level of responsibility would be an $80K/YR “section leader” position. In a large business, likely more compensation, as each Opportunity would have it’s own Accountable Leader and the reach of each Objective would be extensive.

    I was taught God, Bible, Self, Family, Others.

    In Christ.

    JR

  2. “So you were a youth minister 20 years ago? Awesome. I was in junior high twenty years ago–that doesn’t mean I know anything about being one now.” That has got to be one of the greatest statements ever and applies to the youth minister as well in my opinion.

    So many times a youth minister tries to relate to young people he is in charge of by trying to act like them. An adult woman ran the youth ministry program at a church I attended. Her adult approach to guiding and conducting the program made it a success and was a tremendous influence on my step son.

    By the way JR, money isn’t everything. Church budgets dictate expenditures so maybe the YM could do some of the work. In my day as a Boy Scout, I remember the leader being a (volunteer) and taking a week of his family vacation to be with us at Boy Scout camp.

    Youth Ministry is not just a job. The YM is influencing young people by teaching and living the Word of God. Jesus was sacrificed for our sins What sacrifices are we willing to go through for God?

  3. Have you done one on how to treat Youth Sponsors? When you should just hire them because they are basically doing your job? How to respect a sponsor that has years of experience and a higher education? How to keep from having a high turnover rate of sponsors? Basically…. can you write about all things sponsors?

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