Let me start by saying this: “I’m no expert in youth ministry.” I haven’t served as a full-time youth ministry leader. There are many aspects of youth ministry I have never experienced. There are nuances in youth ministry that can only be understood by those who grit it out in the trenches serving in this kind of ministry on a day-in/day-out basis.
Here’s who I am, though: I’m a pastor. I’m pastor who serves a congregation with people of all ages. I’m called to love and to shepherd both the young and the old. Youth are just as much a part of the church as any other age group, and they matter just as much as any other age group. While there are others in my congregation who have been called to minister to youth specifically, it is part of my call to come alongside these ministers to support, encourage, and empower the work of the Lord in and through the youth of our congregation.
Many other pastors find themselves in similar positions. In a lot of ministry contexts, commissioned workers or faithful volunteers lead the charge in the area of youth ministry. Even when a pastor serves with a ministry team, he bears a call to love and shepherd the entire congregation, including its young people. From what I’ve observed, many pastors have a desire to see youth ministry flourish in the places they serve, but it’s not always clear how the pastor might contribute to make that ministry flourish.
So, the question for our consideration is this: “What might a pastor do to support, encourage, and empower youth ministry in the context where he serves?
Again, I’m no expert. Hear what follows as a few suggestions from a pastor who has been thinking about this question but is still “on the road” himself as he works to put these ideas into practice.
Here are a few encouragements for pastors:
First, pray actively and routinely for the youth and the youth ministry leaders of your congregation.
Keep a list of names of all the students of a particular age in your congregation and pray for them by name in a rhythm that works for you (weekly, monthly, annually). If you aren’t the one leading youth ministry in your congregation, check in frequently with the leader to ask for the prayer requests he or she has been receiving directly from youth. Pray for your leader too and do it outside of any regularly scheduled meetings together.
Most of us tend to pray about what we care about. You can get to know your youth well through the concerns, thanksgivings, and requests on their hearts. Youth and youth ministry leaders see that pastor cares when he asks for prayer requests consistently. Prepare yourself to follow up on prayer requests too. Ask your youth ministry leader how you might be an additional support and encouragement when you follow up on prayer requests.
Second, make a commitment to be present with your youth when it is important for you to be present.
Meet with youth ministry leaders to set priorities for yourselves as a team in your calendars, so all of you can be on the same page about what occasions are most important and appropriate for you to be present. Set times where it’s helpful and appropriate to actively participate in youth ministry.
When you plan to be present, ask the leaders what would be most helpful for you to do when you are present. Establish clear expectations for everyone in advance. Not every pastor has to be present in the same way because not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Talk openly with your leaders about your gifts and capabilities so that together you might find ways for your presence to be a blessing to your young people and their leaders.
Third, seek out ways to show youth ministry leaders you love them and believe in them.
One of my favorite coaches as a kid would tell our team repeatedly, “Make someone feel like a million bucks. They’ll play like a million bucks.” This is true for a ministry team as well. Loving and believing in youth ministry leaders can take a variety of shapes and forms. Celebrate successes. Acknowledge hard work. Include youth ministry leaders in decision-making. Even invite critique for yourself in the areas of ministry you oversee. Learn your leaders’ wirings, personalities, and values so you can be intentional about finding ways for them to know how much you care about them. The youth of your congregation are served best when their leader is at their best. Do what it takes to help their leader be at his or her best.
Finally, insist on young people serving as leaders within the congregation. Pave a way for them to grow and to take ownership of the congregation’s life together. Involve them on committees or teams outside the realm of youth ministry. Seek out their counsel or advice when it’s helpful and appropriate. Let the rest of the congregation see that the young people in their midst are just as much a part of the congregation’s life as any other age group.
Pastors hold a unique office in our Lord’s church. That office is a gift to the entire church – young and old alike. Youth and youth ministry leaders look to you. May the Lord bless you as you serve to make that office a gift to your young people and those who lead them.