WHO AM I? The Role of the Youth Pastor in the Local Church

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“We used to have a lot more inflatables!” “When are we going to do an all-nighter?” “I wish we did more in-depth Bible-study.” “Are we doing small groups this year?” A youth pastor gets a lot of questions. On any given Sunday you may have the most precious 4-foot-tall, 70 year-old woman come up to you and ask if you do a bus ministry; or a sweaty jr. high boy who has no sense of personal space asking if you are doing a paintball event this year.

Both of these individuals (and everyone in between) have a unique idea of what they hope a youth pastor will be and do. In fact, much of the church culture in America reflects a people whose hope is too tightly attached to the individual talents and programs of ministry leaders, as opposed to the transformative power of the Word of God.

As a new youth pastor it is totally normal to think, “What am I doing?” “Is anything working?” “Is this what I should be spending my time on?” God uses these early years in ministry to sanctify us in understanding our true role in His church. In fact, be encouraged if you are questioning the purpose and goals of your role as a youth minister. Not because you are clever or super skilled at professional evaluation, but because God has provided rich guidance in our purposes and positions through his word.

His word calls you a shepherd. In Acts 20:17-28, Paul instructs the elders of the church to “shepherd [or ‘pastor’]” the church of God. And, in I Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts the “elders” of the churches and then admonishes them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.”[1] The primary calling of an elder/pastor is to shepherd, or pastor, God’s people. You shepherd them by teaching and equipping them with the gospel (Eph. 4:11).

God’s word says the qualifications for ministry are wide and encompassing. In I Timothy 3:1-7, Paul writes to Timothy informing him of the requirements of anyone who aspires to the office of overseer. The instructions given in the New Testament reveal that the central needs of church leadership are character, gifting, and plurality. Age, marital status, ministry models, personalities, or social position are of little to no concern in regards to being a pastor. Did you catch that? Paul himself encourages believers to be as he is, single. Of greatest importance is the character of the man, his ability to teach, and his being a part of a group of similar men. Therefore, a youth pastor is simply – yet profoundly – a man of character who has a desire to shepherd Christ’s church through teaching and discipleship, specifically the youth and their families.

Your job is to shepherd people to Christ. We shepherd people to Christ because we know it is he who saves and sanctifies – our greatest hope and assurance this side of heaven. By Christ’s authority, and through his living truth and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, he governs, guides, and refreshes his people (the church). God may use a youth pastor or their ministry efforts but, just as it is Christ who saves and sanctifies, it is also God who does the growing and flourishing of our ministries. What a relief!

In his book The Church, Edmund Clowney, articulates well the goals and means of Christ’s church. He shows how the three goals of the church – the worship of God, nurture of the saints, and Christ’s mission to the world – are to be realized by the power of the Spirit of God through three primary means that God has provided – the word of God, church order (structured as the family of God), and ministries of mercy.[2]

The youth pastor and other church leaders hold unique positions in the order of Christ’s church for its shepherding, under the only head shepherd, Christ (1 Peter 5:4). The good news of Jesus informs the goals and means of the church for every member. Jesus has finished the work of paying for all our sins on the cross and given us his righteousness, so that now we can actually worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Further, it is only by the self-sacrificing love we have received in Christ that we are able to nurture the saints, and only by the power of the Spirit of God that we are able to be witnesses to the world.

Let’s be honest, we are not good youth pastors. We are redeemed youth pastors. Little Gertrude’s bus ministry questions after service, or socially awkward Billy’s paintball disappointment are not problems to be solved. Individuals like these in our churches may have their hopes in a certain type of youth pastor, but we pastor them well by placing our hope in the chief youth pastor, Jesus.

Youth pastors, as you find yourselves tempted to please everyone, be at peace in knowing that Jesus is all anyone needs. Trusting God’s means for ‘doing’ ministry is such a grace, because it liberates us from attaching our success to the thoughts of man; it places our hope in a God who has spoken finally in His word, and through His Son. You have great freedom in your creative ministry efforts as youth pastors. You might have a bus ministry and do paintball, but the goals of the church and means for accomplishing them ought to be the same. Our goal is to shepherd people in the gospel for the worship of God, the nurture of the saints, and to reach the world. We shepherd our flocks with the word of God, through the family of God, and by sharing the mercy we have received from God.

Tomorrow on the blog, check out part two of this article for an action plan to help you develop a coherent and focused youth ministry vision.

[1] Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008), 56.

[2] Edmund P. Clowney, The Church. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1995), 200.

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