I was having a great conversation with a friend/mentor of mine who served as a youth pastor for about 8 years while also writing a few books on youth ministry. He is now writing, thinking, and speaking about issues of the emerging church and emergent theology.
He was remembering back to his days as a youth pastor, chuckling at some of the funny moments and reliving the anxious ones when he blurted out “you know you guys have the easiest job out there!”
Now we were hanging out with a few emergent pastors (who also happened to be former youth pastors) and they all nodded their heads in agreement. Immediately I laughed it off and listened to their explanations. They were speaking from experiences, having been on both sides of the ministry and making the transition from “Jr.” church to the real deal.
I pondered their reasoning and to be quite honest was a bit defensive and hurt at first.
I thought about this for some time and realized that to some extent, my friend was right.
It is not very hard to plan a ski trip, hold a dodge ball tournament, or organize a car wash fundraiser.
So I thought about doing my own version of the Redneck bantering
You know youth ministry is the easiest job out there when….
Your toughest decision in a day is deciding whether to play kickball or shuffle your buns…
Your biggest challenge in a week is setting up chairs and sofas for a Superbowl party and stressing out to make sure we collect enough money to cover the pizza.
You “worry” about picking up enough snacks for your weekly meetings, making sure to send out our emails on time, or choosing which game to do for youth group.
When you get paid to eat out all the time.
When you get to sleep in past 9am almost any day if you really wanted to.
When you don’t have to sit through long and tedious board meetings, but are actually applauded when you rather hang outside and throw a football around.
Now, I could go on and on and I am sure that every youth pastor’s context is different.
I remember times when I was at the beach, Six Flags, the mall, or playing paintball with my students and thinking “I actually get paid to do this!”
Let’s be honest, leading a camping trip is not that difficult.
Spending time in the summer on roller coasters would make any person’s job description quickly improve.
Anyone would jump at the opportunity to get paid to take kids out to lunch or watch their sports events or plays (unless the kid is really bad and then you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through that ordeal….just kidding (but not really)
When my friends here about what I get to do (and what I don’t have to do) I can see their envy level rising.
Then why is it that far too many youth pastors quit from burn out so soon?
Why is the national average stay for a youth pastor at a church still about 18 months?
If being a youth pastor is so easy, why are there fewer and fewer people training to become one?
Why are churches finding it more and more difficult to find and keep good ones?
These questions do not seem to line up with the presumption that youth ministry is easy.
Maybe that’s because youth ministry is not!
Yes, if you compare the “work load” of a youth pastor to..let’s say a missionary, professor, senior pastor, or even author/speaker, I would probably agree that in general there are far more demanding ministry careers than youth pastor.
But…which careers have as much at stake than youth ministry?
Senior pastors basically spend their time trying to inform, motivate, and please Christians. (I understand this is a huge generalization, but I still think it to be mostly true). Statistics show that over 90% of people regularly attending church to be Christian.
Youth pastors are trying to convince non-Christians the importance of following Jesus.
Just think about the number of teens attending your program who are not Christians!
Research continues to show that 85% of people will make decisions to follow Christ by the age of 18. So there is tremendous pressure for youth pastors to reach these students before they graduate and leave our presence.
You can begin to understand why many youth pastors buckle under that kind of pressure.
Youth pastors feel such a heavy burden for their students.
Students fighting through (and often losing) battles against addictions, self esteem, identity crisis, depression, etc..
We carry the burdens of so many upon our shoulder and usually we are the only ones in their lives willing to do so…and that takes a great toll on us as individuals and pastors.
Youth pastors also (as all of you reading this probably know) tend to be under appreciated at churches. Certainly our pay shows that. A ten year veteran youth pastor will probably make less than a rookie “associate”. That’s just how it goes.
Money aside, often churches are happy if we can produce enough programs to keep the students occupied and out of the way of the adults. Seldom are youth pastors asked about the important decisions regarding the church or truly seen as a vital component of the church’s vision and future.
Now, every church is different. I am blessed to be at one that does understand, support, and appreciate who I am and what I do. But I know that the large majority of youth pastors do not have that, thus making their jobs even more difficult.
I think everyone would agree that it is far easier to do your job in an environment of praise, support, and resources than without those. Youth pastors generally are not afforded such luxuries.
And yet, we are still called to persevere through it all in order to communicate the gospel to students that we love.
Is youth ministry easy? From the perspective of someone looking from the outside in…sure.
But from one who is entrenched in the lives of my students, daily making sacrifices that may never be noticed, choosing a pay decrease to remain in youth ministry, giving up valuable time with friends and family during nights and weekends, having to put up with middle school antics and high school drama every single day, often being over utilized and under appreciated at the same time, and praying with never ending tears over the pain and anguish of students….no, its not easy.
I would argue that youth ministry is not easy and in fact may just be the most demanding career out there in ministry.
God, grant us all the strength, faith, wisdom, courage, perseverance, and hope to remain faithful to your calling and to continue to reach students with your love.