For All the Tired Youth Pastors Out There
- Jason Chenoweth Youth Pastor
- 2014 6 Nov
There are a ton of challenges to being a youth pastor. We could sit and make long lists that would include lost bets leading to baldness, foods no person should ever have to eat, parents who see us as the enemy, blown pistons on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere during mission trips, etc. One of the toughest parts, though, is being in the role of support staff at the ministry. It may or may not be true for you, but for many youth pastors (and children's pastors, worship pastors, etc.) being in a support role has its unique challenges. This is true if you have a great senior pastor (as I do), or your senior pastor is, well, let's just say, "less than great."
It's so tough sometimes to play the role we do. If you're a volunteer leading the youth ministry, you are working 20 to 30 hours a week writing lessons, planning trips, counseling students, praying like crazy for your kids, trying to find other volunteers, and still trying to work at your paying job and have a life. You do all of this, only to hear people in the church lament, "I wish we had a real youth pastor. It's a shame we can't get one." Does the paycheck make the pastor?
If you are in a mid-sized church, you probably are a youth pastor+, which means you get to run the youth ministry, plus oversee the children's ministry, plus lead worship, plus do the tech support for the church, plus do hospital calls, plus change the oil in the church van, plus…You get the idea. The only place there isn't a plus in your life is your paycheck. It is so challenging to carry so many loads, to wear so many hats, and yet still be asked when you're "going to become a real pastor" by all the well-meaning grandma's in the church.
It's also tough to play the roles we do in large churches, where we get to be just the youth pastor. Your job is mostly defined as working with the middle and high school students and their families. You get off easy. You have the fun job on staff. Other pastors from the smaller churches in town envy you and your cushy role. That is, until they realize you are pastor to students, leader of adult teams, work with parents, lead a worship ministry, run a small publishing company, orchestrate a social media empire, and basically run a church within a church. Oh yeah, did we mention you don't make any more than the youth pastor with one-third the responsibilities you have? You have all the formal education of a senior pastor and have been in ministry for years, but you're just the youth pastor.
Disclaimer: I love my job. I love my church. I love my senior pastor and leadership. I'm not bitter or upset. This stuff is just reality for what many of us face. If you're similar to the majority of youth pastors, you wonder from time to time: Why does God do this? When am I going to be a real pastor? These stresses drive many of us out of youth ministry, in my opinion, before it's time.
Today, I'm reading Daniel 1. You need to go read it. It's the well-worn story of Daniel and his three amigos being taken into custody and shipped off to Babylon. They were chosen for the accelerated program at school and were standouts among their peers. It's the lead up chapter before things get good with the crazy dreams, fiery furnace, lion's den, and all the other cool stories we love to tell. There is an easily passed over detail in chapter 1 that stood out to me today. Daniel and the boys are studs. No, seriously, they are. The Bible says so. It says:
"Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king's service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians" (Dan. 1:3-4).
These guys were buff, handsome, smart, talented, leaders, intuitive, quick studies. They were A-listers, guys on the go. They were talented, qualified and ready. God was on their side, and they were guys who can get things done and done well—very similar to us. The men and women I meet who are youth pastors (regardless of pay) often are some of the smartest, quickest, most talented people in the church. Many of the youth pastors I meet could be described accurately and fairly by the words above. Many of them would have been chosen for the king's program. Many of them easily could lead a church but instead are faithfully serving students and parents.
So, what happened next for Daniel and crew? They began to work for a king who never appreciated them. There was no loyalty from this king, though they save him repeatedly. There was no long-term appreciation for them. They were rewarded one day, then thrown in a burning furnace later, and ignored in between. They were capable but never were given roles that fit them. They were talented but always held in check. They were given great responsibilities, but constantly reminded they were not free. These were guys built from the ground up to run things, to be alpha leaders, and instead found themselves placed in the roles of support staff.
Similar to you.
Notice the story doesn't contain a chapter about them overthrowing the king and taking their spots on the throne. They didn't start a rebellion to lobby for a parallel kingdom. There was no story of their gritty climb from obscurity to becoming the most powerful people the world had seen.
They served—faithfully. They did what is right to the best of their abilities and trusted God. They recognized it's His kingdom, His King ultimately on the throne, His plan. They did everything they could to honor Him, whether that meant life or death, to speak up or be quiet, to run their areas well or let them go if those responsibilities were taken away. They were faithful. I believe the most important thing a support staff leader can do is be faithful. Be faithful to God, to His calling on your life, to your church, to your senior pastor, to your job.
God put them in their roles because He knew that's where He would get glory. He didn't make them kings. He could have. He had made Nebuchadnezzar king. He made Darius king. He could have made Daniel or one of the other three king. He didn't. He isn't impressed with kings, bosses, supervisors, org charts or chain of command. None of that matters to God, but faithfulness does. It always does.
So, don't spend time today worried about your role, position or amount of influence. Don't spend time nitpicking your pastor's decisions or motives. You're not him or her. You are you. Be faithful. Nothing better could be said about you than that—that you are faithful.
I'm proud of you all and honored to be counted among you. Keep it up!
Jason is a husband and dad who is shocked and grateful that God has let him be a youth pastor for 21 years. He loves speaking to groups, coaching and training youth pastors, and writing; but the time with students drives him most. If you think he can be a help somehow, contact him. It'll make his day! Follow him on Twitter @jasonchenoweth.