Who’s ready for summer?
From teachers and coaches to moms and dads, the shift to a summertime pace can’t happen fast enough. But for the youth leader, summer is just another verse of the same tune: expectations are high, attendance and support are unpredictable, and ministry is as busy and challenging as ever.
Youth pastors disciple the same kids for years, through the roller coaster of middle school and high school. These hardworking men and women (and the volunteers who assist them) endure a lot of teenage angst and silliness, fortified only by cold pizza and a swig of flat Diet Coke. They spend hours shooting hoops, drinking coffee, and going on power walks, praying all the while for the Holy Spirit to help them shepherd teenagers whose emotional processing may include anything from boredom to suicidal ideation. These youth pastors are on the frontlines of discipling the loneliest generation, even as many of them are barely older than teens themselves.
Mom and Dad, your child’s youth pastor may have even held your hand through a dark season or two. As fellow members of the body of Christ with our pastors, parents should consider how well we support the youth workers who support our teenagers.
Christian journalist Philip Yancey once mused, “I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastor’s spiritual health – not his or her efficiency – our number one priority.”*
Consider the burden your youth pastor bears. They are tasked with preaching the gospel—the greatest privilege and responsibility God gives to humanity— to young people, who are by virtue of their age and inexperience prone to challenging authority and rebelling simply for the sake of rebelling. Tweens and adolescents are often pushing boundaries, trying on different personalities, and deeply insecure, not to mention wildly hormonal. Add to that the fact that teenagers have an enemy, a roaring lion who is seeking to devour them, and he is currently confusing our culture to great effect.
That same enemy is after your child’s youth pastor. The greatest gift you can give your youth leader is to intercede in prayer on his or her behalf. Pray for their spiritual protection; pray they will rest in the gospel they teach. Your youth pastor is praying for you and your teen. Your love for each other will increase as you pray.
Have realistic expectations.
There are many reasons pastors experience burnout, and many of those are beyond the control of parents. But we put unfair stress on the youth pastor when we expect them to make youth group so gospel-centered and fun that our kid will give up drinking on Saturday nights or looking at porn. If we cannot save our own children, or even make them behave, then we can’t expect the youth leaders to either. Our children’s hearts are in God’s hands, not their youth pastor’s.
Celebrate the effectiveness of the discipleship your child’s pastor is able to give, even if it’s not making a visible change in your teenager’s life right now. The fruit of parental discipleship can take years to become evident. Have the same hopeful, prayerful patience with youth pastors, and take your impatience up with the God who holds our kids’ hearts in his hands.
Volunteer, and then follow through.
If your youth pastor asks for help, sign up to help. Be present with your church’s youth leader. Teach Sunday school, organize the fundraiser, show up to the meetings.
Few things are more discouraging than counting on support that doesn’t materialize. If you say you’re going to bake the cookies or drive the carpool, then make every effort to do so. If things come up, find a replacement. If you completely forget to do something you promised to do, apologize. If you truly want your youth pastor to be effective reaching teens in your church, find out what kind of support they need most, and do your best to give it.
Anticipate needs, wants, hopes, and dreams.
A friend of mine who loves his wife well shared this simple idea with me: on Friday evening, he sits her down and asks her “what are your hopes and dreams for this weekend?” He may not be able to give her everything her little hearts desires, but she feels heard, and he has an idea about what’s on her mind and what she thinks she needs.
We can do this with our youth workers too. Imagine what it would mean if you took your child’s youth leader out to lunch in June. (Yes, June- they are already hard at work planning what the fall looks like for your kids in youth group.) Buy them a good lunch and, depending on your relationship, consider asking them some version of the following questions:
How are you? Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?
What are you doing for rest and fun this summer?
How was the last year for you? What were your biggest challenges?
What are your hopes and dreams for the youth over the next school year? What do you need from the church to help make those wishes become reality? What can I, as a parent of one of your youth students, do to support you?
How can I pray for you?
Listen well, and then follow through by prayerfully considering how you might advocate for that youth pastor. Tell their bosses they are doing a good job. Champion their vision for the youth with governing deacons or elders. Support allocating funds and resources for youth programs. On a more personal level, offer to babysit their kids if they have them, or share use of a family vacation place if you have one. Do for them what you would want done for you if you were a hardworking youth pastor.
Help them embrace their limits by acknowledging your own.
Humble yourself before God and man. If there is an issue within the ministry, don’t go over the youth pastor’s head (unless the issue is the health and well-being of the teenagers). Don’t complain about the youth pastor behind their back. Some churches offer free pastoral counseling for their staff, so if you think the youth pastor needs it, pray about the most loving and respectful way to go about getting help for him or her. Especially if you are older, you will confer dignity on a younger pastor by treating them as a professional andas a brother or sister in Christ. Youth pastors need the same grace you need.
So, give them grace.
In his book You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News (which, by the way, every parent should read), Kelly Kapic tells us that our pastors need to hear the gospel from us, congregants in the local body they serve. It might start with the words,
Well done, good and faithful servant… Sometimes the only way [youth pastors] will believe that God thinks this of them is for the words to come from our mouths first, not in false flattery, but in genuine appreciation. If [our pastors] come to genuinely believe we think they are good and faithful, even in light of their limits, weaknesses, and sin, then they might gain the courage to believe that their Father actually thinks that of them as well (185).
Youth ministers serve our teenagers during a pivotal season in their lives. They do this work out of a desire to see God glorified and a sincere love for vulnerable young people. The hours are weird, the pay is low, and the burden can feel very heavy. Let’s prioritize their health in every way, giving thanks to God – and to them!—every chance we get.
*As quoted in You’re Only Human by Kelly Kapic, p. 182.
If you want to hear the heart of a weary but hopeful youth leader, check out this talk by Kevin Yi from our 2019 conference. Parents will be encouraged to persevere, as Kevin takes us through the life of Moses.