The Unnecessary Youth Pastor

POSTED: January 8, 2014
By Mark DeVries, founder of Youth Ministry Architects.

Not long ago, I found myself sitting on a stool before a group of youth pastors.  I was seated next to a youth ministry expert whom I respect incredibly.  And he said something that made me wonder if there was something wrong with my hearing.

“I long for the day,” he said, “when churches are loving and discipling kids so well that youth ministers will no longer be necessary.” 

 You may have heard something similar: “If parents were doing their job at home, we wouldn’t need youth ministers or youth ministry.”

I wonder though.  Aren’t those statements a little like saying,

“I long for the day when coaches are no longer needed on team.”  OR  “I long for the day when air traffic controllers are no longer needed at the airport.”  OR  “I long for the day when kids will raise themselves”? 

An Exercise in Missing the Point

Could it be that this perspective points to a foundational misunderstanding of the essential role of the youth pastor?

Sadly, most churches (and many youth ministry experts!) see the first role of the youth pastor as being the person who owns the relational responsibility for the students in his or her ministry, an approach that works beautifully until a group grows to 15 or 20 students.  But churches don’t need “friends for hire” as youth pastors.   What we do need, though, and need desperately, are youth pastors who do the heavy lifting of connecting kids with lots of normal, everyday, garden-variety godly adults.  Then (and only then?) will discipleship happen “organically” and “naturally.”

The Organic Fallacy

In the chaotic, fragmented, generationally isolated culture our kids live in, expecting them to grow into godly adulthood “naturally,” or for churches to break through the protective bubble of teenage culture “organically,” is like expecting the garden in my back yard to produce a bumper crop of vegetables “organically” with no “interference” from me.

Because we live in a world where “all things tend toward a state of disorder” (see the Second Law of Thermodynamics, your church, and my office), churches will need youth pastors to continue to invite, prod, and hold their church’s accountable to every believer’s call to invest in the next generation.

I too long for the day when churches will be filled with adults who embrace the calling, chaos, and joy of investing in the next generation.  And our best hope of seeing that dream to reality may just be youth pastors who understand and do their jobs.

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Mark DeVries is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects (www.ymarchitects.com), a hands-on youth ministry consulting team. He is author of Sustainable Youth Ministry and co-author with Jeff Dunn-Rankin of the, The Indispensable Youth Pastor and Before You Hire a Youth Pastor. Mark is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Youth Ministry Summit.