I Am a Youth Pastor
Involuntarily, memories are pushed out of my mind making way for the newest priority, but one that sticks around without any effort is of August 3, 1998. Since beginning at Jackson College of Ministries four years earlier, I had prayed for and dreamed of this day many times-the day “ministry” would begin. Somehow, the perception had burrowed its way into my mind that ministry began the day after my pastor announced it. So, on Sunday night, August 2, my pastor, Thomas L. Craft, announced to the First Pentecostal Church of Jackson, Mississippi, that I would be the youth pastor. Now Monday August 3 comes, and I awake and have no idea what youth pastors do to fill their days each week. Preceding me as youth pastor were Darrell Johns, David Reever, Anthony Ballestero, and Hansel Stanley. Now I am a youth pastor?
Over twelve youth ministry years later, I am overwhelmed and burdened with the prospect of reaching aver 22,000 teenagers in my county alone. It would be a little too sensationalistic to say we have tried everything in my decade plus years as the leader of The Crowd (or the eleven years before that as a member), but surely we are close.
Fads in youth ministry change as often as Microsoft updates. We have been through the crowd-breaker phase, the skit phase, the stick phase, the Black Gospel phase, the smoke and lights phase, the weekly set-up and tear-down phase, the ubiquitous countdown phase, the game room phase, the play-CDs-for-worship phase, the gross game phase, the One-eighty phase, the must-have-a-hand-at-the-lock-in phase, the Doug Fields phase, the involve-everyone-in-ministry phase, and the still-present-today fundraiser phase and far too many more! So, after the phases have come and gone, I find myself examining what our local youth ministry looks like. My desire is that it looks like, well … a ministry to youth. It is possible that with this article landing somewhere between our general superintendent’s article and the musings of other great minds that I have been too sophomoric, but you would be surprised at how long it took me to arrive at that.
Youth pastoring is more than fruit punch and lemon cookies, it turns out I am finding out daily more of what I do not know. If only I had known what was coming, back in August 1998! I distinctly remember toilet-cleaning going unmentioned in all six semesters of Bible College. Youth pastoring is counseling, preaching, teaching, and Bible studies. It is a whole lot of following up, it is assisting the pastor, it is church cleaning, it is miles of vacuuming, it is guest letters, giveaways, altar working, worship leading, motivating, praying, and pleading. It is over 150 annual youth events, graduation attending, wedding speaking, van driving, Facebooking, picture uploading, graphics designing, hotel coordinating, and pizza eating. It is youth congress attending and youth retreat planning.
It is parent advocating, it is apologizing to hotel general managers, it is explaining things you don’t understand to kids who have had to grow up too quickly, it is roller coasters, it is walking with kids thousands of times through depression and thousands more through an A on a report card. It is prayer requests about injured cats caught in recliners (really happened), it is prayer requests for backslidden dads, it is saying farewell to teenagers for whom you’ve fought, it is saying farewell to sleep, a personal life, pagers, and myspace. It is rejoicing when young adults rejoice and it is having your heart break when theirs breaks. Simply said youth pastoring is pastoring youth! And occasionally I feel guilty for how rewarding it is and that some people consider this a “job.”
Youth pastoring is standing in and with. I stand with the pastor to achieve his vision. I stand with the parent as one of the few people not in their family who prays specifically for their kids. I stand with the young adult stumbling through the uncharted territory of transition. I stand with the teenager as the friend who does not change and the leader who loves unconditionally. And I do it because I must do all I can while I can to lead as many as I can to the Cross that is perpetually permeating my vision. I am a youth pastor!
All I know is how to have church. I am not as good at relevance, connecting, communicating, speaking, conversing, mentoring, or life coaching-I just know how to have church! It was in church that I was called. It was in church that I was convicted. It was in church that I was challenged and changed. It will be in church-true Apostolic church-where this generation of a thousand labels will be called, convicted, challenged, and changed!
As a task-oriented and self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive, it is important to me that I make lists, mark things off, and make more lists. Confession: If I do something not on my list for the day I go back and add it so I can mark it off. Here’s a revelation I received early, but too late: Youth pastors do not go home when they are done for the day; they go home when they are exhausted. Ministry-you can never actually mark that one off your list. When is it achieved? When our city is reached? When our state is reached? When I have taught enough Bible studies? When I have called every absentee? When I have visited every guest?
Youth pastoring is not something I do; it is what I have become. It did not happen the day it was announced in our church; it happened the day I was called, long before I knew I would have a letterhead. It serves as more than lay local label. It is not what I am doing between jobs. If I work full time or part time outside the church to “support my habit” of ministry, that is not what identifies me. I am identified by my calling-I am called to pastor youth. Other than eight years as an IBM technician that overlapped youth ministry for three years, I have had the opportunity to do full time what I love, in the city I love, at the church I love, for the families I love. Still, the item on my to-do list today that says, “pastor youth” can never actually come off, and I am okay with that. Because, after all I am a youth pastor!
This article “I Am a Youth Pastor” by Chadwick Craft was excerpted from Pentecostal Herald magazine, pg. 12. November 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.