Ministry Companions: Youth Workers & Pastors in Partnership
- Monday, February 07, 2005
Since the fundamental question of adolescence is one of identity, it often is manifested not only as "Who am I?" but "Who am I apart from you?" This has to be resolved before significant interchange can take place. Since a certain part of youth is, "I am me, not you," we hear things like, "We want worship that's meaningful to us!" Part of that is just generational, wanting a separate identity, but youth ministers should be careful not to slip into "our way is good; theirs is bad." That kind of attitude can have large institutional implications.
As much as possible, we integrate our youth ministry into the life of the church-at-large. In addition to keeping the body of Christ whole, this wins points with parents, fosters intergenerational relationships, makes it easier to get adult volunteers, and makes everyone feel better about the youth ministry in general (which, incidentally, adds job security). Just as the goal of mature adulthood is not complete independence but healthy interdependence, the goal of youth ministry is a healthy interdependence within the community of faith. A freestanding, teen-only environment leaves no one to usher young people into adulthood.
Youth pastors need to help kids understand that they're not autonomous. Many bring parents along, and the senior pastor deals with them. So free-flowing communication about what kids need and what their parents need is vital. At its best, youth ministry should provide parents with a safe place where they can begin to let go of their children without dropping them into nothingness. They can let them go within an environment where adults share their core convictions. A senior pastor who trusts and respects the youth minister and who has all necessary information can significantly aid parents in this part of their journey.
We're one body with many parts. Any time we begin to devalue the work of another part, we're setting ourselves up for failure. No body can fully function without the parts doing what each is specifically called to do.
One of the quickest ways to hamstring a good youth minister is for the pastor to micromanage. A better choice is to hire a good person—one the pastor can trust and respect—then, leave him alone and let him do his job. If he's micromanaged, he may stay out of trouble with the pastor, but he'll likely be ineffective with the kids. If the pastor is spending all of her time checking up on the youth minister, she's probably not doing what she needs to do, either.
More than any other position in the church, youth ministers are outside the box. They don't just act a little outside the box; they often live way outside the box—which is why kids are drawn to them. That's actually a spiritual gifting. But, many youth workers like to constantly rebel—going against the grain, swimming against the flow. Such metaphors are best left for Christians struggling to counteract worldly influences, not dealings with your senior pastor.
One reason that we've gotten along so well is that we each know the other has valuable insight into the lives of people and situations in our congregation that we do not. We each see from a different perspective simply because of where we're standing. We're able to share our insights freely, appreciating the different perspective the other brings.
We also trust that God has called each of us to our specific areas of ministry, which means that the youth pastor cannot do the senior minister's job as well as he can, and vice-versa. It's simply not our place to tell the other one how to execute his call.
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