3 Challenges for 21st Century Youth Leaders

In a previous post, I outlined five important lessons for 21st century youth pastors. Today, I’m going to switch gears by discussing three of the biggest challenges youth leaders face on a daily basis.

1) The Parent-Youth Pastor Relationship

I’m not a parent1. Obviously, I can’t fully relate to the stresses they endure. Yet, I do know parent and pastor don’t always see eye to eye. Granted, parents know their youth better; however, this doesn’t mean they automatically understand the youth group better2.

55018ce7-83c3-48ef-a922-8a40ef187ca0Truth is: The parent can be a youth pastor’s most difficult relational experience3 ; however, if trust and communication is established from the get-go, the relationship will have a greater opportunity to flourish.

In my experience, I’ve seen it all: parents asking other parents or staff questions they should be asking me, parents criticizing my effort to other pastors and parents4, parents pulling their kids out of youth group without any explanation, parents not making any effort to connect, parents not making any effort to encourage their kids to connect, parents who think they know me because they know my parents, parents who volunteer with hidden agendas, parents overprotecting their kids based on vain assumptions or outdated perspectives…I could go on.

Yet, while I could have passive-aggressively “walled up” as a way of self-medicating, it wouldn’t have allowed me to press through the adversity with a pure heart, not to mention discover the heart of certain parents who now serve on our youth team.

My advice?
  • Believe the best, not just hope the best
  • Be faithful in the big and small
  • Fully rely on God (without mixing in interdependences)
  • Proactively own mistakes
  • Partner with parents5
Trust me: You’ll find the more you reach out with these conditions in mind, the more parents will buy into the vision God has placed in your heart.

2) The Engage Factor

Based on what I observed as a youth and what I’m observing as a youth pastor, youth ministry is trending in an obsolete direction. And while I could dig up a bunch of stats, personal experience (conversations, discussion with mentors, real life/social media observations, etc.) has proven this enough within my sphere of influence.

Truth is: With each passing year, many kids disconnect or stiff-arm youth ministry entirely, with parents catering to their child’s indifference/emotions or the fear youth ministry will somehow contaminate or conflict with their own standards.

Again, I’m not a parent. But I have been a youth or youth leader over half my life…and when I reflect on my middle/high school days, I’m proud I not only went to church, but engaged my local youth community.

Why? Because I got to…
  • Cultivate obedience and Holy Spirit reliance
  • Learn the value in investing in community regardless of how I felt or how busy my load was
  • Experience the power of Hebrews 10:24-25, loving God and God’s people in the same setting
Unfortunately, many nowadays take their cues from circumstances rather than conviction and base their perspective on assumptions rather than truth6.

As a result, the “engage factor” in youth ministry continues to fade.

What will it take to reverse the trend?

Honestly, I’m not sure, but I do know stressing about other people’s busyness and excuses doesn’t accomplish anything. For me, whenever I’m discouraged about how others are engaging/disengaging, I refocus my attention on prayer, specifically for God to revive an universal understanding on what real covenantal community is.

3) Pressure to Perform

stressAnother challenge for the 21st century youth leader involves the pressure to perform. While this struggle may vary from person to person, the common denominator is usually a fear of judgment or failure.
For instance, a youth pastor may embrace a performance mentality in light of feeling less spiritual than his elderly superiors…or be more concerned about aesthetic matters than shepherding community.

Whatever the case, it’s critical for youth ministers not to let fear generate action.

‘Cause when the primary focus is placed on execution as opposed to genuine service, then youth leaders won’t be able to fully demonstrate what relying on God looks like. And if such modeling is only partial, how can we say we’re equipping young people to conquer sin and better their spiritual walks?

Truth is: If our initiative isn’t “simply Jesus”, then we not only dilute our leadership, but also minimize the potential of God’s Spirit transforming youth from the inside-out.

I don’t know about you, but I want be a leader who daily wins the battle with expectations…who consistently denies the pressure to perform and accepts greater grace7 instead.

Why? ‘Cause in the end…life is all about Jesusand pointing people in His direction.

Besides, fear has an offensive odor; if youth smell it, they’ll likely run in the opposite direction of where you want them to.


1) Although this will soon change (cough, cough)
2) Specifically vision and mission. Also, it does concern me how some are not taking ownership of their kids’ spiritual growth. While some parents are extremely overprotective, others can rely too heavily on the church to change their kids
3) Sometimes, visa-versa
4) Which is gossip, by the way. Just because it happens at church, doesn’t make it legal
5) In other words, pursue relationship with parents, as opposed to settling for intermittent interaction
6) Something we’re all guilty of
7) When we make this exchange, we maximize our faithfulness through greater obedience and faster forgiveness (on ourselves and others)

Photo credits: youthministry360.com, thegospelcoalition.org & zachhaas.com

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