When Youth Pastors Lead Churches







Is youth ministry a good preparation for leading a church?


There are certainly some transferable skills and there is a level of preparation that is inevitable, but lately I’ve been wondering if some of what happens in youth ministry actually works against preparing someone for work with older folks.
Adults are a whole different beast to young people and if you try and lead then the same way you can expect to experience more than a little frustration.
I remember making the transition from youth pastor to pastoral team leader while in the same church and bringing my youth kitbag to the game only to discover so much of it was no longer of any use. After finishing in the team leader role after two years to go plant a church one bloke had the insight and courage to advise me that my way of leading by ‘driving’ people needed a bit of work if I was to go the distance with adults. He was kind and helpful but I heard his point… ‘just because you call it, shout loud and challenge us to do something doesn’t mean we are going to do it…  in fact chances are you will lose us altogether.’


A different form of leadership is required and many youth pastors who have been cut from the ‘charismatic cool’ mould will need to re-skill and patiently learn a new culture. A few differences I have been pondering :

Young people say yes easily. Whatever the idea…  it’s not that young people don’t think.  They just don’t have the same cynicism and innovation-weariness adults bring. They like new ideas and generally will say yes to a charismatic leader because they want to be ‘on board ‘. Adults…  Hmmm… they make you work just to get your idea heard because they’ve heard so many many before.

Young people have time to burn (often) and they get energy from participating in what you come up with. Adults might buy passionately into your ideas, they may more likely support your ideas dutifully, but only for so long. I keep hearing people say they want ‘young families ‘ in their church, and I ‘get’ that they give the church a good look,  but they are the most time poor, overcommitted group you will come across. If you enjoyed having volunteers coming out of your ears as a youth pastor then get used to working with people who struggle to find time for you. Note: They aren’t bad people. They are just at a different stage of life where expectations need to be adjusted. If you can’t handle that then don’t make the shift.

Young people still believe they can change the world while adults smile, yawn and wait for you to settle down. They have heard the whole ‘sold out for Jesus’ spiel so many times now that it just brushes  past them with little effect. They tried changing the world and it didn’t work. Now they just come to church. Yeah – there are some exceptions, but for many just ‘turning up’ is their radical demonstration of faith.

In youth ministry you didn’t worry about finance because the adult crew bankrolled it.  No one expects kids to be self sufficient, but that game is over now.  If the $$ don’t come in you can’t look away and hope the lead pastor is able to convince people to give.  You are that person now… Suddenly money becomes an important part of the equation and you need to be able to somehow navigate the path between calling people to be generous because that’s good and realising that part of their generosity pays your wages. While I have no problem with calling people to give, the abysmally low percentage of those who actually do has often made me want to give it all away. The 80/20 rule is alive and well in church finances.

In youth ministry innovation and change is normal. It’s expected and young people roll with it. There are very few ‘leading change’s seminars for youth pastors because if you want to change something you simply announce it and do it.  Maybe it’s a little more complicated than I just made it sound but the level of autonomy and freedom a youth pastor has is significant.

Youth ministry is often fun...  no really…  you get paid to have a ball.  I know it’s not always like that but I remember my youth minister days as a hoot.  There can be some awesome times in working with adults but it’s often a bit more serious. Time is precious, the issues are generally a bit more significant and no one really wants to cram another marshmallow in and say ‘chubby bunnies’.

So if you are making the shift then at least go in aware of the issues. When I reflect on my first days in leading adults I sometimes want to sheepishly say ‘sorry…’ because I had little appreciation for the lives people were leading or the struggles they were facing. I just needed them to behave like an older version of our youth crew and when they didn’t I pushed harder thinking that was the answer.

I’m 50 now…

Why Young Adults Leave Church

Mark Sayers

is blogging on some of the most common reasons 25-35 seems to be a dead spot for young adults when it comes to engaging in church life.

If you’re in youth ministry of any sort then this is a blog you need to be reading

Here are a few snippets:

From Your Faithclock is Ticking

In Logan’s Run death comes at thirty. For young adult Christians in the West it seems to be some time between 25 and 35 that the fire of faith begins to dim. For some it will remain a faint flicker, they will retain some kind of allegiance to Christianity; despite the fact their faith has lost any active component. Others will find their faith simply growing cold and then dying, the way a campfire goes out, it is burning when you go to sleep, but when you wake in the cold of the morning, it is nothing but cool ashes. You don’t know at what point it went out over night, but the fact remains it has gone out. Others will throw in the towel deliberately. It could be that a life of faith has simply become too hard, or perhaps faith did not deliver the kind of life that they thought that it was promising and thus it is abandoned.


Everything changes when I ask my favourite question “How long do you guys plan on staying in this church?… Ten years?’ I normally get two responses. Response number one is “Are you joking. Ten years!!!” this is usually followed by laughter. The second response is simply blank stares, as if I have asked them a question in Swahili. My experience is that it does not matter what sort of church young adults are attending, be it large, small, emerging, contemporary, traditional; they are not planning on hanging around for any more than 3 years if you are lucky.

From Reason no.1 ‘Choice Anxiety’:

Christian young adults are stuck with a constant splinter in the mind, the never ending nagging feeling that they might have made the wrong decision. Maybe they have chosen the wrong church to attend, should they be at the hip contemporary mega-church down the road, or the small emerging church in the next suburb, or should they rejoin their friends and family at the traditional church that they grew up in? Did they even make right choice in following Christ? Maybe they should move Cities, States, Countries? Should they change partners, careers, lifestyles, ethics?

From Reason no.2 Post Christian Identity:

Christianity is perceived in the popular imagination as being intellectually ludicrous, our behaviour and opinions are seen as bigoted. Whilst obviously I disagree with these assessments, they are a daily reality for many young adults trying to live out their faith in the secular world.

From Reason no.3 The Pornification of Christian Resources:

I am constantly meeting young adults who are still passionate about their faith, but are no longer part of a faith community. When I ask them why, they tell me that there is no need. I ask them how they grow as Christians? They will tell me that they download podcasts from some of the worlds best preachers, they watch sermons on line from cutting edge churches, they read books from well known Christian writers, and attend all kinds of conferences and worship seminars. Some even regularly go on ‘mission trips’ to the third world. Many now choose to not go to their local church because every Sunday they can roll out of bed at midday and turn on Christian cable and watch services from the world’s most successful churches. They read blogs ( irony duly noted ) and frequent Christian chat rooms to connect with other believers. Like the Japanese Otaku they feel that technology has superseded their need for real world – real time relationships.

The Failure of Youth Ministry

Today I spoke at the induction of Ryan Harding, the youth pastor at Quinns Baptist Church. Over the week I spent a fair bit of time reflecting on what I would say to a youth pastor, as one who has been there done that and who has spent a lot of time around youth pastors.

I am convinced the challenge of youth ministry to keep ‘making disciples’ as the main game. Its easy to get into event mode & ‘pumped’ mode, but the stuff that lasts is the stuff that matters. Its not to say there is no place for fun stuff – not at all – we need to have fun – but sometimes the priorities in youth ministry get misplaced.

In the last few years of life Mike Yaconelli wrote his ‘Dangerous Wonder’ column in youthworker journal. In it Yac would often cut loose and speak vehemently about the failure of so much of what has been passed off as youth ministry. If it was anyone else writing they probably would have been axed – but when you own the company you can pretty much say what you like!

Here is an excerpt from one of his pieces. Remember, this man devoted his life to providing training and resources for youth pastors and developed the biggest youth training/resource organisation on the planet. Youth Speciaties are still huge.

When viewed thru this lens these are chilling words.

Youth ministry doesn’t have any staying power.

Young people flock to Christian concerts, cheer Jesus at large events, and work on service projects. Unfortunately, it’s not because of Jesus; it’s because they’re young!

The success of youth ministry in this country is an illusion.

Very little youth ministry has a lasting impact on students.

I believe we’re no more effective today reaching young people with the gospel than we’ve ever been. In spite of all the dazzling super stars of youth ministry, the amazing array of YS products, the thousands of youth ministry training events, nothing much has changed.

Following Jesus is hard.

Faith is difficult.

Discipleship requires a huge investment of time. Most of us don’t have the time. Or we chose not to take the time. Or our current models of ministry don’t allow us the time.

So let’s be honest.

Youth ministry as an experiment has failed. If we want to see the church survive, we need to rethink youth ministry.

What does that mean? I don’t have a clue. But my hunch is that if we want to see young people have a faith that lasts, then we have to completely change the way we do youth ministry in America.

I wonder if any of us has the courage to try.

Youth Alive – What Do You Think?

A friend of mine who is also a local youth pastor, wrote to me recently and asked what people were feeling regards the whole Youth Alive scene here in WA.

I suggested he post here and we could discuss it. So here is his email:

G’day guys, I’m looking for youth pastors/leaders feedback on thoughts of Youth Alive and the content/ approach of their outreach events over the last couple of years. I have the organizers permission to do this so feel free to post what you think is the good the bad and the ugly. This information will be used to start a dialogue with the organizers to hopefully “edify the body of Christ”

So far I have heard alot of reserved enthusiasm, cynicism, criticism or total support. Post your thoughts and let your views influence the largest culture of youth ministry in WA


Chris Green

Youth Pastor Mounty Church (Mount Hawthorn Baptist)

So there you have it.

What do you reckon about the impact Youth Alive is having on the young people of Perth? I am interested in some decent discussion.

BTW – If you just want to be rude and offensive (as some are prone to be) then go somewhere else because I will delete your comment.

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Youth Stuff

I was teaching on Tuesday night at the Baptist Theological College about Youth & Culture.

I would have to say that at 42 years old I am somewhat out of touch with the current surface issues in youth culture, but as I prepared I felt what was most important was to look at the deeper cultural forces that actually give shape to the surface issues (TV shows, music, toys).

The bigger undergirding issues I chose to pick up on were:

1. Post-modernity – I know the whole pomo thing is very passe, but the relativity of truth is a huge issue for us as we seek to present Jesus as the only way and this is the current worldview of anyone in the youth scene today.

2. Consumerism lolita free – no big surprise here. The selfishness this engenders makes it hard to develop passionate followers of Jesus and when churches try to play to it, rather than confront it, we end up subverting discipleship completely.

3. Suburban living – the more I ponder this one the more I believe we are shaped by the values of the burbs – comfort, security, risk averse privatopia – and it is not a good thing.

We spent much of the evening discussing what impact these forces have on the way we do mission and church. It provoked some very healthy discussion and a rather quiet group managed to gain some steam after a while!

I’d be interested in what you would see as the prime forces shaping youth culture as. Would you add or subtract any?

If you want to see the notes you can click here.

The future looks tame

Yesterday was the ‘Future Church’ forum run by the Church of Christ youth crew here in WA. Scott, who ran the day describes it like this:

It was a discussion day in which 7 topics were floated at the start with 3 spots for discussion. People voted at the start of the day on which topics they desired to have spoken on. The winners today were –

1. The Future of Youth / Kids Ministry

2. Discipleship the Jesus way

3. Incarnational versus Attractional Model

4. (in case we had time which we didn’t) Success and how it’s measured.

Also on the vote board were –

Leadership and it’s various expressions

Finance Stewardship and use of resources

What is Church?

Overall I enjoyed the day and reckon it was a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation between different parts of the church. But I left puzzled and maybe a little concerned at the lack of real future thinking we were able to do, as well as the absence of serious debate. We seemed to get bogged on much of the same stuff that often gets knocked around on days like these.

I actually expected that my own paper would launch a few hand grenades into the crowd and catalyse some more fiesty discussion, but it didn’t transpire that way either. I intentionally wrote some fairly polarising things to try and evoke a response and create the debate that we seem reluctant to have.

As I reflected later I can see several reasons why this may not have happened. So here are a few thoughts:

– People are less open in big groups. In fact it can be scary to speak in big groups. Simple social dynamics. Next time it’d be good to break into smaller groups.

– When someone speaks with a bit of passion you may feel a bit wary of pushing back because it could get you engaged in more than you bargained for. One thing I learnt personally is that the best way to generate discussion is probably not to ‘pick a fight’. Most people don’t want a fight and shy from conflict – and we Christians more than most! I would write a different paper next time round – more questioning and less direct.

– I am now an ‘older guy’ with a fair bit of experience and I can handle myself fairly well in a large group. I remember being at youth forums like this when older guys spoke and I was reluctant to ever speak against them or question them, because I lacked confidence. Good on ya James for throwing your two bobs worth in.

– Some people wouldn’t feel at all confident speaking to these issues either from a knowledge base, or because they would not be able to see them from where they stand. I am completely amazed at how I see church and mission these days now that I am no longer leading a church of three or four hundred people. Where you stand determines what you see. Obviously that applies to me as much as to anyone else.

– Most of us aren’t wired that well to think futuristically. We are beings of the now and its hard to think outside of worlds as we know them.

Of the day itself, Scott said:

It didn’t really feel like anyone was radical today. There were radical things said I think, but no one seemed to react or get offended or even really badly disagree. Which all sounds good, but if what Barna says is true that by the year 2025 that 70% of people claiming to be committed to Christ will not attend a local church then what we know currently as ‘local church’ and all its trimmings is in deep poo poo. Take the basics for example, most of us there today wont have a job in 20 years in the format we have today!

No one seemed to go there, too scary? Maybe we just don’t care? Maybe the comment about future planning is at ‘0’. Meaning we don’t plan further ahead than tomorrow as it all changes too quick.

Ob1 said:

ok, so it’s an hour or two later now, and we hit the topic of incarnational versus attractional church models. in spite of some provocative papers being presented to get the juices flowing, the excellent point was made that this is a poor distinction to make because “incarnational” or “attractional” are labels that really describe evangelism, but not really church itself. and, given the definitions put forward about what it means to be incarnational missionaries to our communities, i’m more convinced than ever that some of these dialogues are really silly and pointless, because i see almost no difference in what we’re all trying to accomplish — reaching people for Christ in relevant and meaningful ways in our communities.

I’d be interested to hear some other points of view.

As I reflect on the ‘incarnational / attractional’ question reality is that you could look at communities that embrace either ideal and see flaws. You can find weaknesses in an attractional scheme and you can find nonsense happening in an incarnational group.

There are things a large church can do that a small group can’t. There are things a small group can do that a large group can’t. Blah blah blah…

However I do think we need to come back to some questions of why we do what we do and the theology that undergirds it.

Are Youth Pastors a Dying Breed?

This week I start my role as a youth minisry coach with the Baptist churches of WA working 12 hours a week. My job is simply to meet with local youth pastors and help them be more effective in their roles.

Its not about influencing them to be like me or to buy into my psycho wacky missional ideas yada yada yada. It is about respecting the ecology of their own church environments and helping them to function within them as best they can.

And I am fine with that. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but…

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I sat down yesterday to begin making a database of who I needed to be in contact with and set up appointments with and discovered there aren’t a whole heap of youth pastors out there. It feels to me like there are fewer youth pastors in Baptist churches than when I was in the thick of it 7 years ago.

I could be reading it wrong, but I’m wondering if its ‘a fact’, if there are reasons for this, if we need to be concerned for it.

As I surveyed the churches in our denomination – 105 or so – most are small and do not have a dedicated’ and paid youth pastor’, 10 are ethnic (and usually very small), several of the larger churches do not have a dedicated youth staff member although they have ‘associate staff’.

I guessed at around 11 paid youth pastors and 3 or 4 churches seeking part/full timers to fill positions.

Is this saying something?

What are others discovering?

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