I love youth pastors. I love them because I believe in the work they do. I love them because I was one. Actually, I am still a youth pastor doing youth ministry. It is just that now my “youth” drive mini-vans, pay mortgages and have kids. But those who work with real teenagers – junior and senior high students – deserve our appreciation, love and support.
The Center for Youth and Family Ministry (CYFM) at Fuller Seminary released a report documenting the trends among high school seniors regarding their thoughts on youth ministry. 68% of those polled said that they go to youth group because they liked the youth pastor. This was a much more popular reason for attending youth ministry functions than the common assumption that teens go to youth group to be with their friends.
The report also asked what high school seniors wanted more of in their youth ministries. 70 percent of the respondents wanted more or much more time for deep conversation; 65 wanted more mission trips; 65 percent wanted more accountability; and 58 percent wanted more time to worship. Ranked last was the desire for more games.
These statistics underscore the truth that youth pastors ARE the ministry to the students in their ministry. Programs, events, rallies, trips, camps, retreats, etc. are all secondary to this one single truth that youth pastors offer themselves first as their ministry to youth. This truth requires youth pastors to be more than over-paid stand-up comedians or social juggernauts. They have to be in a passionate pursuit of Christ themselves. This truth also makes some think that youth are too dependant on the youth pastor, but this is really a matter of how the youth pastor responds to all the attention. Henri Nouwen describes those in Christian ministry as the living reminder of Christ, and if youth pastors use their position to point kids to Christ and the pathway of discipleship, then we should celebrate youth pastors and all the attention they get. No matter how cool their hair is, or how fashionable their attire, they must stand before their students and say imitate me as I imitate Christ.