The 4 Truths Everyone Needs to Know about Youth Pastors

Youth ministry has sometimes been criticized as ‘baby sitting kids” but it is more like shepherding sheep.

That’s not very exciting, is it?  “Come shepherd sheep!” You probably won’t find it on a Bible College recruiting poster anywhere in North America, but it is the call of the Master. “Feed my Lambs..” isn’t much better, but it is the job description of any of us who dare to bear the title “PASTOR.”

Jesus’ disciples noticed this one day. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few…

Considering the importance of the work. Here are 4 truths you need to know about youth pastors!

Before we get into it,  let’s understand that by pastor I mean shepherd.

Shepherding sheep is not as glamorous as saying that you were a special speaker in another country, or that you organized city wide rallies, or led life changing mission trips.  The week-in-week-out discipling teens through the roller coaster years of adolescence doesn’t look very spectacular on a resume but it is the great need of our day. 

Sadly, in some circles, faithfulness in this ministry is no longer good enough. Many leaders and books challenge youth pastors to dream “bigger dreams!” Although the intentions are good, they devalue the important task of caring for youth.

1. Shepherding is demeaning work.

We would rather be soldiers, engage in spiritual warfare, take down strongholds, ‘take our cities for God!’  Those are the analogies that work best with this generation.  There is honor in that.  You can live and die for that.  Feeding the same fifteen bleating sheep every week doesn’t give us much to talk about among our peers—- but it should Faithfulness, not attendance, is what God will reward on judgment day.

Youth pastors are often undervalued and underpaid even though it is a commonly accepted fact that the vast majority of Christians alive today made that commitment before their eighteenth birthday.  The work the youth pastor does in the high school, or the youth room is cutting edge; it is heroic!

We come face to face with Satan as we rush in where angels fear to tread.  The wounds we bear upon our soul as we have sobbed for teens, few will ever see.  But the One who bled and died for these same sheep has never overlooked even a cup of cold water given in His Name.  There is no higher calling, no greater honor than to be his hands and loving arms to wash the feet of his disciples.

2. Shepherding is demanding work.

“I want to be a history maker in this land” as the Delirious tune challenged me. Instead I find myself in the hills going after the one sheep that strayed away.  Sometimes I bring them back screaming and kickin’ all the way. Not much glory in that.  (but boy do you feel it in your lower back!)  I wanna be a “Jesus Freak!” as the DC Talk book of martyrs suggested. Throw me to the lions, or the communist torture camps, but please don’t let me face an angry mob of parents!

Hey, I’d even be a “God Chaser” if I didn’t have to be back for feeding time. The average youth pastor in so many communities spends less than three years at the same church and is done with youth ministry completely in under five years. The late nights, high intensity, and constant pressures take a toll on the body soul and mind. The demands are huge but the souls of young people are worth the effort.

3. Shepherding is Demoralizing work.

I was interviewed on TV once. (Okay everyone gets their fifteen seconds of glory and I’m milking mine for all they are worth!)

I was asked what is the best part of being a youth pastor.  “Seeing kids commit their lives to Christ” I said without hesitation. “And what is the worst part of youth ministry… “Watching those same kids walk away from Christ.”  We love to see transformed lives, but it is a journey.  Thank God that the story is not over by the time that they leave the youth group! If you are genuine in ministry your heart will be broken again and again.

Youth ministry is also demoralizing at times because it is messy work.  This doesn’t make the headlines, but those who truly care about kids will be involved when they mess up. We love to report how many were filled with the Holy Spirit, how many made first time commitments, or how many were transformed on mission trips, but we don’t brag about how many got pregnant, how many have been charged by the police, how many still struggle with anger, hatred, doubt, depression, and harmful addictions.

Those don’t make great stories. But if we are going to be honest, even when we are experiencing revival we are mopping up some of the messiest stuff of life.

4. Shepherding is a High Calling

So youth ministry, that glorious slavery to the master, may be demeaning, demanding even demoralizing but it is the high call to PASTORING.  Some youth groups may do great exploits for God or they may preserve and protect a handful of teens through the ravages of adolescence.  This is not a popular perspective but a very real one.

There are great things that must be done but they should never over-shadow the loving care of youth into a discipling relationship with Jesus. The temptation to be noticed, to do something big, something really successful can be a dangerous distraction. So when you feel some larger than life dream coming on, just meditate upon these words:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!

The sheep are helpless and harassed.

Will you be a good shepherd, a good servant?

It is the highest, most heroic call a human can answer…

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Ron Powell

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Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com