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.)
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.
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.