Okay, I realize that youth ministry did not exist back in the early days of the church. However, Timothy and a few other church leaders were probably in their late 20’s or early 30’s. Although, they likely would have been serving adults in their community. Back then, the adolescent age group did not exist as it does today and there were no distinct ministries for age groups (which might have been a really good thing, helping keep the Body of Christ united and diverse and not separated and segregated as it is today).
Nonetheless, contrary to what you might be thinking, I am not going to quote and write about Paul’s instructions to Timothy (too familiar).
I have something else in mind.
I am taking out of context words written by Paul to a few churches. (some good contextual exegesis this will not be!)
But as I read these words sipping my decaf coffee (what’s the point of decaf anyways…it’s kind of like ODoul’s beer!), I felt as if Paul’s words were speaking directly into my heart and addressing my ministry with students. Hope you are ready for a little Bible Study time!
1 Thessalonians 2: 4-13
4On the contrary, we speak as men (youth pastors) approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
As apostles (youth pastors) of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
13And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because so had become so dear to us.”
As youth pastors, we can relegate our ministry and calling to only preaching the gospel a few times a week. We can stand up on some platform or sit on a stool and preach powerfully and effectively the word of God (and we should!). However, if our ministry and calling is only that, then there will also be a level of disconnect with our teens. What they need and want is for us to “share our lives” with them. It will be in those moments of weakness, laughter, struggles, fear, faith, and simply journeying through life together, that students will be inspired the most. Our students should become like family to us, not just a group of students we check off on our attendance sheets each week.
Listen, I love preaching and teaching, but I love my students more. I would rather sit over coffee or have a group over for a cookout, then sit in some room and teach. I don’t love youth ministry, I love my youth. I cry when they hurt and am flooded with emotions when they are happy and well. Now, as we share life together, the gospel becomes alive and the message all the more powerful and transformative.
Sometimes ministry is a burden and, in order to stay in ministry, we have to labor and toil rigorously. Ministry is not easy or comfortable and our students might just see the effort and hard work that it takes. But we do so in love. I know of many youth pastors who willingly are working 2-3 side jobs, just so they can stay at their church and with their students. Amazing!
We are called to live a holy and righteous life (albeit not perfect). Our students need examples of Christ likeness, deliverance from sin,and victory in following Jesus. Many might not have any examples out there. As youth pastors, we have the calling and responsibility to practice what we preach (as best we can) and lead by example through our teachings and especially our lives.
I really love what Paul says in verses 11-12. We are to deal with our students as a father (or older brother) deals with their own children. Look at the words Paul uses: encouraging, comforting, and urging (pleading).
That’s exactly what we do as youth pastors!
We encourage students who are struggling to find God, faith, hope, and love. We encourage them through our prayers and support. We comfort those who are hurting, facing addiction, battling their demons of temptations, insecurity, fear, and self esteem. We comfort as parents.
We urge and plead with them to love and obey God and seek His will for their lives. We share from our experiences and stories and hope and pray that they can learn from us and not make the same mistakes we did at their age.
We love and care about them so much, that (like Paul) we would do anything to know they there standing firm in the faith.
1 Corinthians 9
The Rights of an Apostle
1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
15But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I relate this entire chapter to being in ministry. Paul is defending both his position and rights as an apostle.
For many of us, it feels like we are often defending our job title and description.
“What exactly do you do all day long? ”
“Should a youth pastor be paid a full time “pastoral” salary?”
Those questions sound familiar perhaps?
Paul lays out a great argument for his rights, claiming “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
Take that Elder board!
However…Paul also said that he chose not to exercise those rights, feeling that those who made a living from ministry could fall into the trap of mixed motivations. If he preaches voluntarily, than he has a greater reward (spiritually speaking).
I tend to agree at some level. There have been times when I really didn’t want to do some things, but I had to because it was my job. I was getting paid to lead and lead I must.
I have always had a tremendous respect for my volunteers and especially volunteer or part time youth pastors. They work full time jobs and then in their free time, choose to go on youth retreats, lead small group meetings, teach Sunday school, and a whole host of activities. So, for those of you reading this who are volunteers. Thank you. You truly have a great reward.
For those of us privileged to get paid to do this, let’s not abuse our situation or take it for granted. How much more should we be doing because of the trust given to us! Let’s look for opportunities to go above and and beyond and do things out of our job descriptions (of course for many of you about 80% of what you actually do in above and beyond what you signed up for!!!)
Find some area to volunteer in, because I really believe you will find much fulfillment and joy in doing so.
“I have became all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
In youth ministry we often switch hats and try to relate with different types of students. One day we are a jock and the next into art and computers. One week we sit and teach the Bible and pray with a group of solid teens and the next night our language might be a bit course and crude (to some) as we hang with a bunch of non churched kids.
For some students, externals are very important (what you say, wear, etc..), while to others not as much.
Paul was the master of cross cultural, contextual, and relevant ministry. He thought, talked, and acted like a Jew when around them, and did the same around the Greeks when around them. Now, if the Jews had saw Paul in that context, all hell would have broke loose!
But Paul didn’t care.
His heart’s desire and prayer was that through his love and actions, he might win the trust and favor of the people so that he might win some to Christ. I think that gives us youth pastors permission to do the same. Now, even though to some, Paul probably “sinned” while in some situations, he later states that his conscious was clear before God, so I highly doubt that participating in a kegger would be a good idea!
“I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
As youth pastors, we can easily fall prey to hypocrisy. Teaching one thing and either not doing it, or doing the opposite. We must guard ourselves daily against this trap of the enemy. After all, he wants us to fall flat on our faces and to have all that we have taught become powerless. Too many youth pastors teach on giving and then don’t tithe. Too many will stand up and preaching against the dangers of lust and then go home and look at porn.
Listen, I know we are all human and prone to weakness. We cannot be perfect, but we must be disciplined and self controlled against hypocrisy. We don’t want to be disqualified.
Simply put, this is an admonition and challenge to daily practice what we preach. And we may need to preach a whole lot more about confession and forgiveness. We must run the race well for our students (and ourselves) and we must finish strong.
I hope you find these words of Paul inspiring and challenging as I did.
I leave you with these words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.“