The Other 6

Wanted: Youth Pastor, a.k.a. Superman

The right person for this position will possess strong relationship and administrative skills. He/she will be flexible with scheduling and on call whenever needed. This person must have boundless energy and the ability to multitask, travel, and relate well with both adults and teens. He/she must know and understand God’s Word and be able to apply it in a fresh way that will change teens’ lives for eternity.

Sounds like a seemingly impossible role to fill, doesn’t it? Yet many churches list similar requirements when seeking a youth pastor or youth director.

Defining the role of a youth pastor is no easy task. Each congregation has different needs. The key to hiring someone who can meet those needs—as well as be personally fulfilled in the position long term—rests in how well a church assesses its needs before beginning the search process. Afterward, the success of the hire will depend on the relationship built between the senior pastor and the youth pastor.

I once heard someone describe the “perfect” model of a youth pastor’s role as an inverted triangle, with the point landing on the shoulders of the youth pastor. This image portrays the youth pastor as the catalyst for the church’s entire youth ministry. His or her personality, past experiences, preferences, and skill sets will determine the type of ministry the kids receive.

This type of hire usually burns out within three years.

Without the people and leaders of the church stating their desires and priorities up front, there’s bound to be miscommunication, misunderstandings, and other conflict that ends a youth pastor’s career prematurely with that congregation.

The alternative scenario has the triangle right side up with the wide base at the bottom and the youth pastor standing at the top. This indicates a church that has developed a structure of how they desire their youth ministry to occur. The congregation knows what skill sets and experiences a youth pastor will need to best fill that role. The youth pastor hired into this scenario understands the expectations and gifts needed to fulfill the position requirements and will be happier and more satisfied long term. And that will lead to more consistent, long-lasting ministry to the children who grow up in that church.

It’s obvious which model leads to success, both for the church and for the youth pastor. So the question then becomes, how does a congregation determine their needs and preferences for youth ministry without creating a job description that no one can fulfill?

Prioritizing becomes the key to successful outcomes. It would of course be wonderful to have a staff member who’s as strong in administration as he or she is in relationship development. But that combination can be hard to find, so a church needs to ask which skill set is most important. For example, if the congregation has a group of volunteer youth

leaders who have strong relationship skills, the church might consider hiring a youth pastor strong in administration. That person’s abilities to organize, plan, and support will enhance the experience of the volunteers along with that of the students and parents. The youth pastor will still form relationships with the students, but the volunteers will fulfill much of the one-on-one time.

On the other hand, perhaps the congregation includes a few people who would like to volunteer their time but are not comfortable hanging out with teenagers. Bring them alongside a youth pastor who has strong relational skills so they can assist in the planning and organizing, and you’ll have a dynamite team.

All of that said, the common response from a church body is often, “But isn’t that what we hire the youth pastor to do?” If the youth pastor is paid to work for the church, shouldn’t he or she be responsible and gifted for all aspects of the youth ministry program?

Take a look at other professions. Rarely will you find a position that is solely responsible for all aspects of a program. The best work environments contain multiple people with varied skills working together for the same outcome. Why should the church be any different when it comes to caring for our youths?

If your church is serious about hiring an effective youth pastor, you must be intentional. Gather data and ideas from your congregation. Discover the gifts and talents you currently have and decide on your priorities. You’ll find a good tool to assist you in this, Compass 21, at www.youthunlimited.org. Step one of Compass 21 is a free online assessment consisting of a handful of questions that help to determine the priorities and current strengths of your church. A brief consultation that explains your results and where they fit within the “Seven Shared Values of Youth Ministry”—relational, transformational, nurturing, exemplary, evangelism, responsive, and intentional—makes this a great first step in building a base of understanding and direction. (Two other steps follow.)

If you’re a youth pastor looking for a church to serve, take time to determine your skills and passions. Then clearly communicate your abilities to search committees and ask them to define their needs and expectations. If you don’t see a good fit from the beginning, it will only become worse as time goes by.

The role of youth pastor is never easy to define or fulfill, but I and others who’ve had a caring youth leader have found that those who make a difference in the sometimes mixed-up, crazy lives of teenagers are of the utmost importance.

About the Author

Rachael Cooley was the executive director of Youth Unlimited from 2004 to 2007. She and her husband currently reside in Maryland.
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