We live in a time when the church is radically changing, a reality no more evident than among today’s youth.
With social climates changing faster than ever, it’s, no doubt, becoming harder for youth pastors to keep pace with modern issues affecting the emerging generation.
Yet, while the challenge may seem intimidating, truth is: when we seek to better understand the times and how God uses them to guide us, we can discover powerful truths and applications.
Thus, in the spirit of stirred insight, here are five inspired lessons for the 21st century youth pastor…
1) Understand the boundaries of social media
It’s no secret 21st century youth live and die by social media. In fact, many of your youth probably define their identity with how many Facebook likes, selfie comments, and Instagram followers they have.
As a youth pastor in my 20’s, I get how recent technology has transformed the communicational landscape for better and for worse.
But while using multiple social media outlets to reach a wider audience can be helpful, I’ve also realized how important it is to set boundaries by asking the question: “How can I encourage people in a way that points them to God’s love as opposed to online fulfillment?”
Whatever approach you use, the important thing is to a) manage your time wisely so you can minister effectively and b) be consistent in encouraging youth through social media and face-to-face interaction.
2) Don't take peoples’ prolonged absences personally
If you’ve been in ministry long enough, chances are you’ve noticed some families “peacing out” for extended periods of time without any communication. When this happens, normally my first instinct is to wonder what went wrong; however, I’ve found it’s critical to not take absences personally. For one thing, just because you’re a minister doesn’t mean you're entitled to know every intimate detail of a person’s life.
Furthermore, commitment can’t always be measured in attendance. The reality is life gets crazy and for some people a brief breather from church can benefit them depending on the circumstances.
As pastors in these situations, it’s always best to not take offense, reach out as best you can (with no hidden agenda), and put the control in God's hands. 'Cause believe me...if someone smells the lasso, they’ll run the other way.
3) Integrate youth leaders into communication
One of the most exhausting tasks of any youth pastor is getting every youth on the same page concerning the “what & when”.
But again, when we ask the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ”, we discover how empowering youth to reach out to their peers can actually improve communication.
In my youth group, peer leaders are given contact lists and make weekly calls, while I focus on communicating with parents. In this way, the responsibility is shared and youth learn to not only be disciples, but disciple-makers.
4) Don’t stress about relationships
It’s inevitable. At some point, boy meets girl, boy asks girl out…and before you know it…bam! You have a dating relationship on your hands, along with endless gossip fodder. Now, I confess: I still have a lot to learn about teaching biblical relationships, but I also know relationships will happen. As a youth pastor, my role is not to parent but to partner with parents and hold my youth accountable to the standards of their home. Not only will this establish trust between pastor and parent, but it will empower the parent to love as Jesus loves and the youth to love what Jesus loves. Not to mention the door will be opened for healthy dialogue to take place regularly.
5) It's not about quantity, but quality
Today, people often measure success in terms of size. “How big is your youth group” is the question I’m most frequently asked. Honestly, this drives me crazy. Why? Because it’s not about quantity as much as it’s about quality! Remember the purpose of church is community1, not filling a seat with a body or building a mailing list. If you ask me, I’d rather have ten passionate youth who understand the Spirit-led life, versus fifty youth looking to be entertained on their weekly pit stop. ‘Cause bottom line: pastoring youth is all about cultivating a Gospel-driven culture, not an agenda-driven ministry2.
1) Specifically, community extending the territory of God’s presence
2) Cultivating a place where God’s presence can be known (i.e. demonstrating heaven on earth) is our purpose. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to elevate any pursuit above serving the body in a way the Kingdom is expressed.
Photo credits: whoworship.com, cbbc.com, chastity.com
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