There are a ton of challenges to being a youth pastor. We could sit and make a long, long list that would include lost bets leading to baldness, foods no person should ever have to eat, parents who see us as the enemy, blown pistons on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere on mission trips, etc. I believe one of the toughest parts is being in the role of support staff at the ministry. It may or may not be true for you, but I know for many youth pastors (and children’s pastors, worship pastors, etc.) being in a support role has its unique challenges. This is true if you have a great senior pastor (as I do), or your senior pastor is, well, let’s just say “less than great”.
It’s so tough sometimes to play the role we do. If you’re a volunteer leading the youth ministry, you are working 20-30 hours a week writing lessons, planning trips, counseling students, praying like crazy for your kids, trying to find other volunteers, and still trying to work at your paying job and have a life. You do all of this, only to hear people in the church lament “I wish we had a real youth pastor. It’s a shame we can’t get one.” I mean, does the paycheck make the pastor?
If you are in a mid-sized church, you probably are a “youth pastor +“, which means you get to run the youth ministry, plus oversee the children’s ministry, plus lead worship, plus do the tech support for the church, plus do hospital calls, plus change the oil in the church van, plus…. well, you get the idea. The only place there isn’t a plus in your life is on your paycheck. It is so challenging to carry so many loads, to wear so many hats, and yet still get asked when you’re “going to become a real pastor?” by all of the well-meaning grandma’s in the church.
It’s also tough to play the role we do if you’re in a large church, where you get to be “just” the youth pastor. Your job is mostly defined as working with the middle school and high school students and families. You get off easy. You have the “fun” job on staff. Other pastors from the smaller churches in town envy you and your “cush” role. That is, until they realize that you are pastor to students, leader of adult teams, work with parents, lead a worship ministry, run a small publishing company, orchestrate a social media empire, and basically run a church within a church. Oh yeah, did we mention you don’t make any more than the youth pastor with 1/3 of the responsibilities you have? You have all the formal education of a senior pastor, you’ve been in ministry for years, but you’re “just” the youth pastor.
Ok, before you try to read into this stuff, I love my job. I love my church. I love my senior pastor and leadership. I’m not bitter or upset. This stuff is just reality for what many of us face. If you’re like a majority of us in the position, you wonder from time to time about it. Why does God do this? When AM I going to be a “real” pastor? These stresses drive many of us out of youth ministry, in my opinion, before it’s time.
So, today, I’m reading Daniel 1. You need to go read it. It’s the well-worn story of Daniel and his three amigos being taken into custody and shipped off. They’re chosen for the accelerated program at school, and stand out. It’s the lead up chapter before things get good with the crazy dreams, fiery furnace, lion’s den, and all the other cool stories we love to tell. There is an easy passed over detail in chapter one that stood out to me today. Daniel and the boys are studs. No, seriously, they are. The Bible says so. It says:
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
These guys are buff, handsome, smart, talented, leaders, intuitive, and quick studies. They are A-Listers, guys on the go. They are talented, qualified, and ready. God is on their side, and they are guys who can get things done, and done well. Much like many of you. No, really, much like many of you. The men and women I meet who are youth pastors (paid or not), are often some of the smartest, quickest, most talented people in the church. Yeah, I’m biased, but it’s still true. Many of the youth pastors I meet could fairly be described with the words above. Many of them would have been chosen for the King’s program. Many of them could easily lead a church, but instead are faithfully serving students and parents.
So, what happens next for Daniel and crew? They begin to work for a king who never appreciates them. There is no loyalty from this king, even though they save him over and over. There is no long-term appreciation for them. They are rewarded one day, thrown in a burning furnace later, ignored in between. They are capable, but never really given roles that fit them. They are talented, but always held in check. They are given great responsibilities, but constantly reminded they are not free. These are guys built from the ground up to run things, to be alpha leaders, and instead find themselves placed in a lifetime roll of support staff.
Notice the story doesn’t contain a chapter where they overthrow the King and take their spot on the throne. They don’t start a rebellion of a parallel kingdom. There is no story of their gritty climb from obscurity to becoming the most powerful people the world has ever seen.
They serve. Faithfully. They do what is right, to the best of their ability, and trust God. They recognize it’s His kingdom, His king on the throne, His plan. They do everything they can to honor Him, whether it’s live or die, speak up or be quiet, run their area well, or let it go when it’s taken away. They are faithful. I believe the most important thing a support staff leader can do is to be faithful. Be faithful to God, to His calling on your life, to your church, to your senior pastor, to your job.
God put them in that role because He knew that’s where He would get glory. He didn’t make them king. He could have. He had made Nebuchadnezzar king. He made Darius king. He could have made Daniel or one of the Three king. He didn’t. Because He isn’t impressed with kings, with bosses, with supervisors, with org charts and chain of command. NONE of that matters to God. But faithfulness does. It always does.
So, don’t spend time today worried about your role, your position, your amount of influence. Don’t spend time nitpicking your pastor’s decisions or motives. You’re not him/her. You are you. Be faithful. Nothing better could be said about you than that; that you are faithful.
I’m proud of you all, and honored to be counted among you. Keep it up!