Twenty years ago the on-ramp to vocational ministry was youth ministry. Today it is difficult to even find a good youth pastor. Why is this the case? My contention is that youth pastors are an endangered species because so many young leaders are looking to plant churches rather than to do youth ministry. When I entered vocational ministry twenty years ago, I knew exactly one person who was planting a church but I knew dozens of men who wanted to be youth pastors. Today, this trend is opposite. I get dozens of emails weekly from church planters and men wanting to plant churches. But finding a decent youth pastor is like looking for a needle in a haystack. How can a church find a good youth pastor who will invest in and reach kids in the community? Are there any youth pastors left? Perhaps it is time that we rethink the youth pastor position in our churches. Here are three suggested ways:
1. Don’t expect more than 4-5 years from a youth pastor.
Remember the days when we all swore that we were in youth ministry for life? A few of us are in youth ministry for life. But many “lifetime” youth pastors shaved their goatees and moved into different areas of vocational ministry. Let’s be realistic and acknowledge that five good years with a youth pastor is a win for a church. Consider looking at your youth pastor both as a gift to your church but also as a ministry leader who needs to develop and mature in order to spend a lifetime in ministry.
2. Consider recruiting a youth pastor who you intend to send out as a church planter.
There is no better training program for planting a church than being a youth pastor for five years. A youth ministry is a smaller version of church. Youth pastors do many things: speak (to a difficult audience), administrate, lead a staff, do outreach, design discipleship ministries, get criticized, plan events, build worship teams, do small groups, start new things, succeed, fail, and experience most of the joys and pains of vocational ministry. Imagine casting a vision to a young leader to commit to 5 years of serving your church in youth ministry, being developed during this time, and then being sent out into church planting or whatever God has for him next. This five years will truly show what he is gifted to do or not do. I suspect that you will have a lot more leaders interested in being a youth pastor if they see a five-year plan to develop, train, and send them out into church planting.
3. Embrace being a sending church rather than a keeping church.
Stop asking your staff leaders to die alongside you. Longevity sounds romantic, but I don’t see many leaders spend their entire lives on the same church staff. Look to develop the leaders that you have while you have them. Be willing to send staff people out on good terms. When they are ready to go, send them out willingly! A church that is recruiting, training, developing, and sending out leaders would be very attractive to young leaders.
Time to rethink the youth pastor position?