Being a Youth Pastor Stinks

I loved being in youth ministry as a student.

But I had few reasons to. Our group was small. Our church was dying. Our ministers were leaving, and I don’t blame them one little bit. Yet God used each one of them in different ways in my life to show me more of his love for the world.

When I first felt a divine tug toward ministry it was toward youth ministry. My first two non-phone-answering-crap-intern jobs in ministry were as a Youth Pastor.

But can I let you in on a secret?

Being a Youth Pastor stinks.

Let me qualify: I love youth ministry. I love thinking, talking, reading, and doing youth ministry.

But youth ministry is hard. Few people respect it because unfortunately few people take it seriously, even among those who get the blessing of doing it for a living. It’s a relatively thankless job. Students often don’t let on how much they care about the youth ministries they call home. Parents often don’t understand or care what youth pastors do.

Church members ask you when you’re going to get a real job (I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve heard this, thankfully never in my current context).

Youth Pastors are traditionally never more frustrated or discouraged during the year than right now. Students have gotten distracted, busy and have stopped coming. Leaders are worn out at best or already checked out at worst. Energy is at an all time low and summer trips that pull Youth Pastors from families are lurking just around the corner, the very same trips that nobody has signed up for on time!

The real truth is: being a youth pastor is awesome. It’s hard but fulfilling. Some of my most rewarding moments in ministry came deep in the trenches of youth ministry.

New to youth ministry? Nervous around teenagers? Not sure how to serve your youth pastor? Read these books. Buy these books and give them to your youth pastor. Commit to read and discuss one with him/her.

4 Recommended Books for Youth Pastors

#1 Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It by Mark DeVries.

  • DeVries teaches a great life lesson too many churches/youth pastors can’t seem to grasp: sustainable, healthy growth doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen without complete commitment to the process. This book will help youth pastors and churches develop youth ministries that not only last, but make a life-changing difference.

#2 Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields

  • Written by a 35-year youth ministry veteran as if you and him were talking about youth ministry over coffee, this book is Doug Fields at his best. Sustainable Youth Ministry equips youth pastors with the right way to think about youth ministry from a ministry philosophy standpoint and Your First Two Years helps put that philosophy into practice. It is amazing practical and thoroughly detailed with more resources than you’ll know how to use. The secondary title says it best: a personal and practical guide to starting right.

#3 Middle School Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Early Adolescents by Mark Oestreicher and Scott Rubin

  • Marko has been the gold standard for over a decade in middle school ministry. Youth pastors, have you ever said something like, “Well high school students are just really more my comfort zone…” What a load of bologna. Just call it what it is: You, like me, just like high school students better because you probably understand them better. This book helps youth pastors and churches understand how to best serve and engage middle school students with the Gospel.

#4 Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition: Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin

  • Fuller Youth Institute has done extensive research in the area of youth ministry and teenage development. In Sticky Faith, the team at FYI presents youth workers with both a theological/philosophical framework and practical programming ideas that develop long-term faith in teenagers. Each chapter presents a summary of FYI’s research, along with the implications of this research, including program ideas suggested and tested by youth ministries.

Honorable Mentions: (All these books have been helpful for me in youth ministry in various contexts)

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  1. The one I hear most is “Do you ever think you’ll be a pastor one day?” I always have to bit my tongue on that one. Another thing that is really more of a pride issue on my part is being called “Youth Director” instead of Youth Minister/Pastor. It seems to reinforce the notion that I’m not a “real” minister.

    • Robert, in my first church I was scheduled to preach on Easter Sunday since our pastor and his wife were having a baby. My name was printed in the bulletin and everything. Since his daughter was born on Monday, he ended up being able to preach Easter, which was fine with me. But a woman walked into my office before church started Easter morning with a bulletin trembling in her hand. She asked me, “Steven are you preaching today?” I kindly told her no not suspecting any ill intent. She let our a relieved sigh exclaiming, “Whew! That’s good news! We might have some people that need to get saved today!” And then she just walked out like that was a perfectly normal thing to say.

      I’m not a one-upper. I just want you to know I feel your pain to a certain extent. Endure, my friend! You don’t labor in vain. And in my opinion, Director is a stupid title. 🙂 You’re a pastor even if they don’t know it! I’m cheering for you, buddy.

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