10 Things No One Tells You Before Becoming A Youth Pastor

10. (If you are a guy) All of the elders are afraid you will have a relationship with one of the students.

Every church I ever worked for gave me “the talk” before starting. It’s almost required these days. As annoying as this is they have to do it. Too many young men have gotten involved with students, both of-age and under-age. One day when I hire a young man or woman to lead the youth I will have to re-itereate that relationships with the students are now allowed.

However, it never fails that a handful of young impressionable girls are going to fall in love with the older and wise youth pastors; especially if he plays guitar. If the youth pastor is a female it tends to happens less but I know that if I were a teenager and we had a cute youth pastor…..I may have had a crush on her.

9. (If you are a guy) Parents with older daughters want you to have a relationship with them, but don’t do it. It’s a trap.

I realize that this sounds crazy, but it’s not. In my years I have had more than a few parents fancy the idea of their (more mature than than the other girls) daughter dating someone safe like the pastors and then getting married and living the ministry couple dream. I have to admit, if I had a daughter who was of age and a senior in HS and she had a crush on the youth pastor…. I might also fancy the idea. After all, there are a lot of alternatives, like millions of immature 18 or 19 years old guys who want to hook up with her or just partake in general debauchery.

However, let’s keep in mind that you must resist these urges and abide by safe ministry practices. Never ever ever have a relationship with any student ever…… EVER. The second you even hug a girl in the church you will start the rumor machine. It won’t be long before someone is saying that things are happening that never happened. I have seen more than one youth pastor go down in flames because of made-up rumors. Once they circulate enough, the church loses faith in the youth pastor and kids stop showing up. Doesn’t matter if they were true or fake rumors. They WILL hurt your ministry.

8. Whatever car you have it will be converted into a student hauling machine.

If you work for a larger church or for a church in well-to-do community you will likely have a church van for hauling kids, teens, and various other things. Thus, you will not understand this point. However, 90% of churches are small and virtually none of these have church vehicles. That is where you and your busted up college car comes in.

You will haul loads of off-branded pops and snacks, loads of party supplies, books and Bibles, camp equipment, and of course hoards of students (often un-showered). From Christian concerts to camp to mission trip spots your car will become a transportation machines. And the best memories from these trips will always be the time when your trash-back breaks down on the way to watch Red, or Skillet, or Sandy Patti, or whatever these kids are listening to these days.

7. Your students won’t remember 95% of anything you ever teach them in sermons, but that’s OK.

I came to this realization one day when I was almost 27 and I was reflecting on my own youth pastor with some old friends. We ALL loved him and we thought he was the greatest youth pastor ever. We credited him with helping us all along our own personal journey, but we could collectively remember maybe 5 sermons at the most.

The fact of the matter is that the best ministry happens candidly, in the trenches of real life. When you rescue someone from a bad day or a blow-up with their parents or friends, that is when ministry happens. When their car breaks down and they want you to lay lands on it, that is when ministry happens. When the they get dumped by that girl you told them not to date but you still have to console them, that’s when ministry happens.

You will find the old saying “more if caught than taught” is absolutely accurate.

6. Some parents are going to want you to parent for them.

I want to be clear right off the bat here. Some parents are just not good at parenting. You will be able to spot them the second that you meet them. Why is Jimmy so unruly? Look no further than his parents. The apple never falls far from the tree. The sad thing is that these are the same parents that expect you to teach their kids some manners and respect. While these are things you should be teaching them anyways, remember that it is not your job to be their parents. There are too many students for that.

However, you ARE going to have a few students over the years that need an extra parent. You will know the difference once you see it. While it can be painful and time consuming to take on a student who needs lots of attention, I promise your time will always be well spent.

5. Everyone thinks they know how to do your job better than you.

When you get to you knew job here a few things to expect (typically). The older students who are used to certain things are going to not want things to change. Younger students are going to want to play games all the time. The elders and older pastors are going to want you do behave more like an adult pastors. Parents are going to want you to taylor youth group around their personal family schedule. The fact is that you have a LOT of people who want to be appeased.

While it is hard, you are going to have to listen to everyone’s input. You don’t have to please everyone but you will find that everyone has something valuable to say. Once you receive input from people it is up to you as to what to do with it. In the past it has benefited me greatly to seek input from the students, pastors, and parents. But keep in mind, you cannot please everyone. God placed you there to lead and and part of being a leader is sometimes making unpopular decisions.

I remember one unpopular decision I made at a church, to involve one adult in our youth services. We needed an extra adult present but he was related to some of the students. They kind of wanted youth group to be more private. By the time my term ended with the church our unwanted adult was beloved and nearly the bedrock of the ministry. Even after I moved on he is still there to serve.

4. You need to plan your exit a long time before you plan to exit.

No one plans their exit right after they start. I didn’t and I don’t expect many do. But it is important that you plan it long before you actually have to exit the ministry. I know some that think youth ministry should never be a “stepping stone” ministry but the fact is that almost no youth pastor positions are permanent. While I agree that it should have a greater meaning than a stepping stone, youth pastors get married and move on in life. They get older and sometimes move into adult ministry. They have family crises and have to step down. More often than not they will find that paying for adulthood is usually a bit difficult on a youth ministry paycheck and eventually seek higher employment. There are a million reasons why youth ministry is often not a long-standing job but if you plan your exit well there won’t be as much wailing and gnashing of teeth when you leave.

I have seen a number of ministries get rocked by youth pastors making the mistake putting in a 2 week’s notice and skipping town. Meanwhile, scores of students are left crying over losing their leader while they are moving on in life. Remember that teenagers are emotionally volatile. They don’t have the same life experiences or information that adults do. They are not planning on you leaving. They are planning on you always being there to see them through the turmoil of puberty and young adulthood. When you do leave, they need to know and understand why and have a period of transition.

In addition, when you leave, you have to actually leave. You have to let the new youth pastor gain their trust and make unpopular decisions the same way you did when you first started. Never undermine the new youth pastor no matter how much they complain about him or her. It will only be a matter of time before they will love them as much as they loved you or the church leadership will find someone else to do the job right.

3. Numbers don’t matter, except they kind-of do matter.

People freak out about the numbers. Too few and they think they have failed. But a lot and they think they are a success. What is the greatest factor in youth numbers? I actually think it is atmosphere and the type of students you have as the core group.

When I was in youth group we had a full church of a whopping 45 people weekly. Our youth ministry exceeded our adult ministry some weeks. We could get 45 students in there on a Thursday night with little effort. So why such a bursting ministry? The students. We invited everyone we knew to youth group. We wanted it to grow and we made everyone feel like family. Of course without a good youth pastor to help and empower the older students to do so, it never could have happened. He fostered an atmosphere of openness and allowed us students to have responsibilities. He trusted us and we flourished because of it. This was the same approach I took when I did youth ministry while in my first 2 years of college.

I had one church appointment while in seminary at a church of about 800 people. We had 3 youth ministers and about 65 students. The lead youth pastor really did all of the same things that my youth pastor did. He was a great youth pastor. But the group of students were very different. These were kids that were involved in many extracurriculars. They were track stars and valedictorians. They were mostly from good families and all college bound. The church was big and both students and parents saw youth group as a program.

My latest appointment was about 4 years at the same small church I went to when I was a teenager. We had about 8 students when I got there. I wanted the youth group to grow right away but it really was only a matter of weeks before I realized that this group was a small tight knit group and they felt safe that way. We did a lot of ministry and missions with others but I never made it a point to grow the youth group after the first few months. For them youth group was a private and often deep experience with close friends. I decided to roll with it. After 4 years I was happy that I did. I got to see a few new people come in and the way that that small group took them in and loved them was something beautiful that is hard to replicate with bigger groups. I got to see virtually all of those kids work through very difficult circumstances with their youth peers that could have never happened in a larger group settings.

In the end, I just want to clarify that numbers are a good thing usually. It is a sign that the ministry is alive. It is a sign that students are comfortable enough to invite their friends. But sometimes there is power in small numbers.

2. You will be expected to perform magic with the budget.

While this might be the bane of most youth pastor’s existence, there is a very good reason why budgets exist. But when the church budget is set for the year, it is usually youth ministry that gets the short end of the stick. While I would propose that this is a disastrous decision, I understand why it happens.

That being said, you still have a ministry to run and rather than complaining about your budget you are going to have to learn how to perform a few tricks. Here are a few suggestions to stick to.

  1. Never buy name brands (Dr. Thunder and Mountain lightning are your friends)
  2. Take up collections and donations for parties and events when needed
  3. Design easy fundraisers that collect high dollar amounts
  4. Find places for events that are public and free (beaches, parks, parent’s houses etc.)
  5. Have a secret fund for a rainy day or emergency

I would also recommend having a good personal budget since you will likely be under-paid and in college with debt up to your ears.

1. You will never have a better time in your life than being a youth pastor.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated,

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Nothing sums up youth ministry better than this. Whether you like it or not you are a very important factor in lives of a number of students. They will remember you even if you don’t remember them. You are a life changer. That is why God put you in charge of leading these students.

Likewise, when you look back on your time of service nothing will bring you more joy. The memories and bonds that I created while in youth ministry are invaluable and will be cherished until God calls me home. I take pride in my students and the great adults many of them have already become and the adults they will eventually become. I am honored to be able to be a part of their lives in such a large way.

You also, will one day look back in fondness and love every minute, even the times when some kid threw up too much Little Ceasars’ 5 dollar hot-n-ready pizza in your car. Or that time you played dodgeball until you couldn’t move your arm anymore. Or the time you helped someone through a bad breakup at 3 in the morning. They will all be priceless.


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