A few years ago, we decided to take our students to the Gulf of Mexico for a week on the beach. Our church had just gone through some major changes and we were hoping to unite our group. Through the blessing of the Lord, this happened in a significant way. Our students started the week as two separate groups, but they ended the week as one big family.
When we arrived home, students piled out of the buses buzzing with excitement to see their families and to share about the week. I did too. I was thrilled with what the Lord had done in the lives of our teenagers. The body of Christ truly came together and united over Jesus!
The feedback that I got back from parents, though, was a little bit different. They raved about how much fun kids had on the trip and how many exciting things we had done together. While I was certainly pleased that all of this took place, it left me feeling unsettled. I wondered whether parents thought I was a good youth pastor because of the fun I could provide for their students, or whether they saw that I was seeking to equip teenagers to follow Jesus. I truly believe and know that the parents meant no offense by saying what they did. They simply wanted to encourage me with a job well done, and I appreciated it. But there was so much more to the week than just fun!
So, parents, here are a few thoughts for you to consider whenever you want to encourage the youth pastor who works with your kids.
Updating Our Criteria
Most parents realize that youth pastors wear many different hats. We are event planners, travel guides, counselors, game creators, professional babysitters (at least that is what it feels like sometimes), wannabe social media influencers, and maybe, just maybe, sometimes we are seen as “real” pastors. All of these things seem to come with the territory of 21st century youth ministry.
In this environment, evaluations of our effectiveness—by ourselves and others—are often made based on whether or not an event went off without a hitch or a trip was well planned. Did the hotel have a pool and was it in a safe place? Was the event well organized, was the game creative, was the worship well planned? Did we create enough memorable moments for the kids?
Typically, “successful” youth pastors evaluate a Sunday or Wednesday evening, trip, or event on the fun metric—simply asking, Did the kids have fun? If they did, then the program was great. If they didn’t, then that might be a problem. Parents and students may have an expectation that youth group will possess many opportunities for games and maybe even prizes for showing up.
None of these things are inherently wrong (well, bribing kids to come to church might be an issue, but that is another discussion). I hope students have fun and enjoy their time at church. Christians should be the most joyful people in the world and if our faith is dry or boring, that is a problem. But is fun really how we ought to evaluate youth pastors and their ministry?
Even more so than the fun metric, youth pastors should be evaluated based on the same criteria as all other pastors: Do we “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12)? Do we “shepherd the flock among [us]” (1 Pet. 5:2)? Do we “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1)?
Being a pastor means desiring to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we can have peace with our Creator. Our sins are no longer held against us. Being a pastor means training people to be involved in the ministry of reconciliation which advances God’s kingdom. These truths still apply as we pastor people under the age of eighteen. Fun cannot replace the gospel!
I ask you as parents to evaluate and encourage youth pastors in the same way we should evaluate and encourage all other pastors: based on their ability to preach and teach God’s Word, to exhort and encourage the church, and to lead their flocks well. What makes a good youth pastor? The same criteria as any other pastor. Do they have the God-given ability and call to shepherd the flock? Just because their sheep are younger does not mean they should be treated lightly.
Having fun, planning events, and going on trips are all good things. These are tools that youth pastors can utilize to grow community in the local church. If these things are a part of the job, then youth pastors should do them with excellence. And, when they do, please show them love and encouragement! It is truly a blessing to feel appreciated when an event goes well. However, these elements of the job should not surpass the biblical call of a pastor.
So, what makes for good youth pastors? Do they shepherd their flocks in accordance with God’s will through sound biblical teaching, and do they point students to Jesus in the way they love and serve others? When you see this kind of faithful ministry, encourage your teenagers’ youth pastor even more!
As youth pastors, our greatest desire is to see students come to faith and to grow in their relationship with the Lord and His Church. There is no greater encouragement than when a parent comes to us and tells us of the ways a teenager is growing in relationship with Christ.