As youth pastors and youth workers we wear a lot of hats. We often end up taking on a ton of random tasks and responsibilities and filling a lot of different roles.
There are some roles however that we should not fill. Some of these are rather obvious, some of these are roles we’d rather not fill anyway, and then there are some that we sometimes drift into even when we don’t intend to.
In particular there are three “people,” we will call them, that youth pastors are not. To be transparent here, I’m hesitant to write this post, because I know how I would have responded early on in my ministry.
However, I see so many youth pastors and youth workers making the mistake of filling these roles and as a result sabotaging the impact of their ministries without even realizing it. So here are three people youth pastors are not.
In most cases our students have parents already. Certainly this isn’t always the case, and I have had many students over the years that this has not been the case for. That said, the vast majority do have parents, or grandparents in their lives.
The responsibilities of a parent are vast and overwhelming. Everyone’s an expert on parenting until they become one. The temptation to overstep and take on the role of parent for students can be tricky at times, and is one that we must be aware of.
The reality is that students do not need more parents. They need someone to come alongside their parents. They have a parent and you are not it (unless you legitimately are their parent in which case you need to be both, and that is another post for another day).
The struggle to be this “person” in the lives of your students is greater when you are younger and just starting out. The desire to be liked and trusted can easily lead to the blurring of the friend line.
Don’t get me wrong. Your students need friends–just like they need parents. You’re just not the friend they need.
When you move into the friend role, you lose the authority you need to effectively lead and shepherd them. There are times when you need to speak some hard truth into the lives of your students. This becomes really difficult if you’re only seen as a friend.
I’m not saying be a jerk. I’m just saying don’t confuse the role of youth pastor/youth worker with friend.
Of the three I’m mentioning here, this is easily the hardest to “not be.” I was a few years into my first youth ministry position when I sat down with a great veteran youth pastor to learn from his wisdom. He had a tremendously effective ministry of longevity so naturally I wanted to learn all his “secrets” to how he did what he did.
As we sat across the table at the restaurant I asked him what the one lesson he wished he had learned earlier in his ministry was. His response was not at all what I expected, but all these years later has proved to be invaluable to me. His advice? “Don’t be the Holy Spirit for your kids.”
I’ll confess, I didn’t quite understand what he meant. I mean, of course I’m not the Holy Spirit. Thankfully he continued to explain what he meant.
He said when it comes to shepherding your students, you can instruct, counsel, guide, encourage, and pray for them. You cannot however make them do what you think is right and keep them from doing what you think is wrong.
In the end, we can only hold forth the Word of God and pray like crazy He shows up in their lives. The Holy Spirit must convict. The Holy Spirit must draw the student to repentance. This my friend is much harder than it seems, but it is essential for your longevity in ministry.
If not these then who?
The hard truth is that as a youth pastor or youth worker we fill a unique role in the life of a student. We are not their parent, friend, or the Holy Spirit, but something altogether different. We come alongside their parents, love them deeper than a friend, and posture their heart towards the working of the Holy Spirit in their life. And this is just one of many things that makes being in youth ministry so difficult.