Monday, March 02, 2009

Youth Pastors & Mind-Reading

A healthy church doesn't need a youth pastor.
As a former youth pastor (nearly 13 years of lock-ins, cold pizza & egg-in-armpit relay, along with some amazing spiritual moments in the lives of youth & their families), that statement hit me upside the face. And since I preached through Luke 6 and the whole "turn the other cheek" thing last week, I kept reading Mark Riddle's book, Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader's Guide to Staffing & Leading Youth Pastors anyway.

In general, Mark says that churches rush to hire a youth pastor, do so for the wrong reasons, and then hamstring the person they hire with hidden expectations and inadequate support. This, my friends, was the story of my youth ministry life, with the wondrous exception of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Silsbee, TX.

If I had enough cash, I'd buy this for every senior pastor/staff member who was working with a youth pastor. It should be required reading. There's chapters on why you should never ask a potential youth pastor about his vision for ministry, why churches really don't want to hire innovative/catalytic youth pastors (been there, done that) and an especially pointed chapter entitled "If You Aren't Going to Mentor Your Youth Pastor, You Don't Deserve One."

It's not a difficult read - well, I mean, Mark Riddle doesn't wax philosophical or get caught up in long-winded arguments. Instead, he makes his points quickly, cleanly & with passion... then gives you (and your staff) questions to process those ideas.

A key passage on overall church health & youth ministry success:
I was talking with Wayne, a senior pastor, about my company's consulting services. Wayne explained his situation this way: "We can't seem to find just the right people for our youth staff. We've bee through four middle school pastors in the past five years and three high school pastors in about that same amount of time. We need to find 'just the right people' to join our 'team.'"

"The Riddle Group can support you by..." I began.

Wayne interrupted me. "Look, I have my thumb on everything that goes on in that church and in that youth ministry," he said. "What are you going to tell me that I don't already know?"

I paused, looked him in the eye, and said, "I'm going to tell you why your church has been through seven pastors in five years."

At least, that's what I wanted to say.

Instead, I said, "My guess is that it's not about finding the right person for your church. The issue isn't a staffing problem, because after seven different youth pastors it seems like you've probably had every personality type in leadership already. I'd guess that the reason your staff members are leaving is likely something else present within the church."

We didn't get the job.

The weaknesses of your church as a whole will almost invariably be present in your youth ministry as well. If your church struggles with finding volunteers, lack of follow through, laziness, or consumerism, you'll find those same traits in the youth ministry.
See what I'm talking about? This is a MUST-read book for ministry.

However, I'm well aware that there are roughly five types of senior pastors out there, thus (sadly) reducing the potential audience for this book:
  1. senior pastors who already get this stuff (a small group made up mostly of former youth pastors)
  2. senior pastors who will read this book and learn important stuff (please, please, please... be part of this group!)
  3. senior pastors who will read this book and cluelessly think it doesn't apply to them
  4. senior pastors who will read this book and downshift into full-on paranoia about this being a way for youth pastors to blame them for their mistakes, thus causing them to find a way to boot their 5th youth pastor in the last 6 years (you may think I'm joking - but I'm the Amazing Karnak and I've got an envelope in front of my forehead with the name of AT LEAST one church in it)
  5. senior pastors who won't read this book because it's about youth ministry which means it's automatically less important than the majority of stuff on their desk

There's good stuff in here for youth pastors, too - his two principles for deciding whether to take a position are dynamite, as are the questions you should ask. (I'm a big fan of questions... could have saved me a LOT of heartache if I'd been willing to ask 'em and learned to listen not only to the answer but the WAY they were answered.)

This would also be a very helpful book for youth pastor search teams. Much of the first half of the book argues for a hiring process with greater patience & faith than many I've been involved with. (I will say that my current church, NewLife Community Church, is an exception to this.)

A final personal note: I'm really thankful for Aaron Kellar, our former worship/youth pastor here at NewLife. Due to life circumstances, I didn't get to do all of these things for him, and yet he served diligently and with a profound love for Jesus. Way to go, dude.

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