Home Pastors 3 Reasons To Stop Treating Youth Pastors Like the JV Team

3 Reasons To Stop Treating Youth Pastors Like the JV Team

youth pastors

For about eight years, I had the privilege of serving in youth ministry leadership as youth pastor over a group of junior high students, and later high school students. During those years, I had the time of my life. 

After all, in many ways, youth pastors get to have all the fun. They go to summer camp, amusement parks, and on beach trips. Youth pastors eat pizza at midnight with students and play all the latest video games. Most of them have the inside scoop on the latest fashion trends and lingo. All of them draw life and vibrance from the students they love so much.

Being a youth pastor is also a lot of work, full of odd hours, vastly varied responsibilities, and often unexpected moments wherein students need genuine pastoral care and wise counsel. 

Nevertheless, though their work is as tireless as it is important, youth pastors are often the most under-appreciated and under-resourced leaders in the church. 

When I was a youth pastor, it was clear that I had a gift for communication. And so I would sometimes be asked to preach for our church’s Sunday services. When I preached, someone would almost invariably approach me after service to commend me on my sermon while offering a question that most didn’t even realize stung me a little: “When do you think you’ll become a real pastor?”

This is a question youth pastors get all the time. Often the youngest and most inexperienced on a church staff, many of them feel undercut by the implication that the work they do is less pastoral, less important, less valuable to the church and the community.

I’m saying this as someone whose church treated him well as a youth pastor. Even still, I often received subtle cues that I was not really a pastor—but I might be someday. For other youth pastors, the cues are not subtle at all. 

But it shouldn’t be this way. Youth ministry is not the JV team. 

In fact, it’s some of the most important work a person could do. Further, it’s some of the most important work a church could support.

Here are three reasons to start treating your youth pastor like a “real” pastor.

1. Students, After All, Are People Too.

It’s amazing to me how many older members of the church genuinely seem to dislike any and all junior high and high school students. They often tell the youth pastor, “I could never do what you do—dealing with all those hormones!”

Implicit in an unwillingness to recognize youth pastors as “real” pastors is often a bias against junior high and high school students, in which they are viewed as something less than “real” humans. 

I mean, when pressed, no one would deny that even the most hormone-addled junior high student constantly using every incomprehensible slang term imaginable is not created in the image of God with inherent dignity and value. It’s just that we’re waiting for them to grow out of whatever phase they’re in so that their humanity is more readily comprehensible to older generations. 

However, this mentality toward young people tends to lack genuine empathy. Yes, junior high and high school students can be a lot to handle sometimes. But part of the reason for that is that these are formative years, wherein they grapple with some of the most important questions of life.

Who am I?

Who is God?

What am I supposed to do with my life?

These aren’t small questions. This period of wrestling often defines the trajectory of a person’s life. Add in the realities of their rapidly changing physiology and cognitive capacity and the often extreme social pressure they feel from peers and parents alike, it’s not difficult to appreciate that this is a tumultuous time in life.

The church would do well to be a steady presence of love in this critical stage of a person’s life—to dignify their experience rather than give them a sideways eye for acting exactly the way you’d expect someone in their stage of development to act.