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Choosing a Youth Pastor

Borgman, Dean. (2006) “Choosing a Youth Pastor,”  Center for Youth Studies.
 


OVERVIEW

What does a pastor or search committee look for in trying to bring the right youth minister to their church? (Much of this also applies to other organizations seeking youth leaders.) It’s helpful to read this article after reading through previous articles, “Ten Stages of Youth Ministry” and “Discerning Your Calling to Youth Ministry.” We also direct you to Paul Borthwick’s How to Choose a Youth Pastor, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, 236pp.

Churches looking for a youth pastor in order to take that responsibility away from the pastor or tired volunteers are making a serious mistake, sure to cause more problems in the long run. Youth ministry begins with the strong foundation of a senior pastor committed to youth ministry because it is essential to Christian education in the church and fulfils the mission of the church to outsiders. Then, the Search Committee should be an on-going adult committee to support, advise, and pray for the youth leadership team. It doesn’t find and call the right person and then retire. This committee is an important part of the foundation for youth ministry in a church, or locally, for any parachurch organization. (See Stage One of Ten Stages).

Does your church really need a professional youth pastor called in from the outside? If pastor and adult committee are functioning well, volunteers may possibly be recruited, trained and supervised from within the present constituency, and perhaps others from the surrounding community. This way, you may find your youth pastor “home-grown.” One of your volunteers may move up to part-time, and then possibly to a full-time position.

 You can’t choose a youth pastor without considering the issue of church and society, without knowing something about adolescent development and the youth culture today and the kind of students you’re trying to reach and disciple. This is one reason a good committee is vital; a pastor can’t possibly do all this alone.

The process of looking for a youth pastor should begin (of course, after serious prayer) with reflection on the history and style of the church and community. A thoughtful consideration of the church’s history of youth ministry is part of that reflection. The vision and strategy statements of church and youth ministry need to be compared: how do they overlap? (Our article on “Theology, Philosophy and Models of Youth Ministry” may be helpful here.) Of course, the coming youth minister, leadership team and young people will be part of this on-going strategizing process.

The search for a youth pastor may take you to the Internet, by phone to other churches and leaders, and to colleges and seminaries. The person you’re looking for may not be as crucial to the church as a senior pastor, but in some ways, his or her job can be more complicated and sensitive. Youth pastors serve as bridges between youth and parents/adults, between the popular youth culture and Christian community, and sometimes in the midst of cross-cultural tensions. They handle the very tricky issue of confidentiality. Youth pastors have been fired because they didn’t break confidentiality and inform parents of intimate details confided to them by youth (in matters not life-threatening). And youth pastors have resigned because of church policies demanding a reporting of private information to parents, which seemed to reduce their role to that of baby-sitters.

 We assume you have an application form and that you will receive candid reference letters from a variety of sources. It is good to follow up these letters with a phone call and probing questions. A well-informed committee can have interesting discussions with prospective youth pastors. Candidates can be well assessed as they meet further with a group of parents and then with young people of the church.

What are you looking for?  I would hope someone with a passion for God and for young people; someone who is growing in spirituality and the ability to relate and communicate—especially to young people, but also to adults. Someone stable in crises and trusted personally. Youth demand someone who is genuine, “for real,” who cares, and can be trusted.

A good youth minister may not be fully mature and professionally skilled in all ways. But they must give evidence of being teachable and committed to growth. They should be good team-players and effective in small groups.

Youth ministers don’t come in any one pattern. It helps to be creative to the point of just a little craziness. At the same time, they must be committed to safety along with adventure, and following legal as well as moral and social guidelines. They need to be high-energy “hustlers” who can get a lot of things started, and keep a lot going, at the same time.

Since we are putting young people under their care, leaders should know the principles of a “safe church” and had, or be willing to have, training in sexual conduct. Their backgrounds in this regard should be checked and their track records of youth work examined (it is sad that previous indiscretions are not always honestly reported).

We want to know how our youth leaders (and all leaders) handle their time, money, sex and assigned tasks.

In terms of pay for a full-time youth pastor: it’s often gauged by what youth ministers in similar churches and communities, or local school teachers with the same education, are being paid. Youth ministers are coming out of school with considerable debt these days. There may need to be some creative plans for housing allowance to enable some growth in equity for the staff person. A married youth pastor with children can be a great benefit to youth ministry, and their expenses are higher.

It is very important that both church and prospective candidates put all their cards on the table, honestly discussing strengths and weaknesses (of both), heart concerns and desired outcomes. What are the common goals, what are the procedures and lines of communication, what will be the nature of supervision?  What does the church expect to learn from this youth pastor and vice versa? It is good to draw up a rough job description to be revised (by staff person and supervisor) during the first few months.

All this gives both church and prospective candidate quite of bit over which to pray. Trusting in such prayer and process, decisions to hire and to take the position (or not) will be made.

 
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION

1.        If you’re a youth minister, what has been your hiring experience so far? If you’ve hired one, how did that go? What were the lessons you learned from that experience and how would you do it differently?

2.        What would you add or take out of the above article?

 
IMPLICATIONS

1.        The hiring process is a crucial time to make discerning and wise decisions to avoid pain and disappointment in the future. Being systematic, thorough, honest and prayerful are essential to finding a good match between a church and a youth pastor.

 

Dean Borgman cCYS