My first experience with Vacation Bible School as a youth pastor involved a myriad of games, endless crafts involving pasta, and perhaps surprisingly, all the church’s elders.
As church leaders, our elders shepherd, preach, and handle the most sensitive matters at the church. These leaders saw VBS as one of those important matters. They were not above sock puppets, nor too important to answer the questions of a child hearing the gospel for the first time.
Frankly, I didn’t get it. My plate was already full with things I deemed more important than those pasta crafts. Upon reflection, my church’s elders modled a biblical truth lacking in my own philosophy of ministry and lacking in many other churches today. Church leaders are called to shepherd the flock, and that flock includes the children and teenagers of the church.
Many churches hire a youth pastor and leave that shepherd on an island, completely disconnected from the larger vision and mission of the church. Inversely, many youth pastors treat any involvement in the ministry from church leaders as a direct assault on their leadership. They would prefer their island to cooperation with the larger church. I believe that this absence of collaborative leadership is one reason youth ministry becomes difficult to sustain when conflict or change arise.
Stability and direction over a long period of time can be hard to come by in youth ministry, but they are essential to its health and growth. Your church’s youth ministry will be healthiest when all church leaders take an active role in leading and shepherding a youth ministry.
Welcome Fellow Shepherds in Youth Ministry
Scripture teaches that God appoints church leaders to put the church in order (Titus 1:5), to provide biblical leadership in a world filled with false teachers, and eventually to give an account to the Lord for their oversight (Heb. 13:17). God calls leaders to the ministry of the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:4). Every youth ministry can benefit from godly leaders who take this role seriously.
The biblical model of serving is one of collaboration. We should not assume that the youth minister bears the sole responsibility for youth ministry. God has given us leaders to benefit the church, and the church includes teenagers. The guidance and wisdom of a plurality of leaders can add stability to a challenging ministry area. By God’s grace, church leaders can help the youth minister set priorities for ministry. In a biblical ideal, their wisdom is a weapon to pinpoint needs and find solutions to current dilemmas facing teenagers. Further, many elders have experience raising their own children and can support the youth minister in partnering with parents.
To pursue healthy collaboration, consider inviting your church’s leaders into your youth ministry planning process, explaining your thinking and asking for their input. Ask them to teach and participate at youth group on occasion. Share a roster of students’ names so they can actively pray for the group.
In threading the lives of the church leaders into the lives of the youth group, you are tying the church closer together. Teenagers will feel more connected to the church at large when they know leaders in addition to the youth minister. This type of growing unity is a mark of health and love within the body of Christ.
Welcome Personal Support as a Youth Minister
The calling of church leaders to steer the youth ministry includes shepherding the youth minister. If your senior pastor and other leaders are believe that God has called you to youth ministry, hopefully they see the need to invest in you spiritually as a fellow leader. Spending time with church leaders should be a priority if we want youth ministry to thrive. The biblical call to discipleship is for older men and women invest in younger ones.
The support of the minister is a vital component to a thriving ministry, so take some time and pray to run a diagnostic on your current ministry context. Many youth pastors and leaders have felt the burden of expectations in ministry in a vacuum, absent the support of the other leaders. If that’s you, consider the reasons for that isolation. Does your church leadership function in a performance-based environment, in which your pleas for camaraderie are viewed as incompetency or weakness on your end? Or are the leaders spread so thin that nobody feels they have the capacity to invest relationally in you? Do other ministry leaders seem to receive this discipleship?
For the lonely or discouraged leader who doesn’t seem to have the support of your other leaders, remember that you are not alone. Further, sin often warps God’s design for leadership and discipleship within the church. My exhortation to you is this: Pray! Pray for your church, pray for the ministry, pray alongside the Scriptures as they define leadership. Remember that the Lord is a redeeming God who sanctifies his people. The answers to your diagnostic questions can help you take part in building up your church for the sake of God’s glory!
If you find yourself in a healthier scenario, but one still lacking collaboration, a different diagnostic may be in order. Ask yourself, do I want collaboration? Am I grateful for my church’s leaders? Do I view them as leaders who can help me grow as a Christian? If you don’t respect or value the discipleship of other leaders, pride will certainly flow into the culture of the youth ministry. For many youth leaders who crave stability in ministry and spiritual growth, the first step may be to pray and repent for any ways you’ve minimized the role your leaders can play as you serve together.
Having church leaders who take an active role in youth ministry isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of spiritual strength. As a seriously relevant bonus to this, every parent prefers a youth leader who embraces collaboration and wisdom from others.
Welcome Opportunities to Proclaim the Gospel Together
Youth ministry is often a difficult place to serve. There is always more work to be done, and the default pace can quicken day over day. Ultimately however, the good work of gospel proclamation has already been accomplished. In his death and resurrection, Jesus has already offered everything your church needs to lead teenagers to worship him.
Our primary role as youth ministers is not to blaze full speed ahead in our programming or vision. Rather, God has called us to proclaim the work Jesus has already done for our students. We point students back to the Savior who laid himself down at the cross for their sin. We remind students that God has reconciled them to himself—despite their best efforts to separate themselves from him—through his forgiveness offered at the cross. We exhort students to live a life for his glory by his grace. Every church leader who helps you plan, joins you in prayer, or spends an evening at youth group is another saint pointing students back to the cross for the glory of the Lord. There’s no such thing as too many people pointing our teenagers to Jesus.
If you’re looking for encouragement and resources for gospel-centered youth ministry, consider joining us for Rooted’s annual conference November 2-4, 2023 in Nashville.