(Newsletter 2011 Annual)
The work of a youth pastor is a difficult one. It is more than planning fun activities and teaching Sunday School. The challenges they face are often not understood by the congregation or other church staff. The result is a high turnover rate and discouragement. Some surveys show the average tenure of a youth pastor is about 18 months. However, some youth pastors have stayed with the same church for much longer. What motivates a youth pastor? What encourages them to keep on?
Presence Ministry interviewed two youth pastors to get their perspectives to better understand their needs, and how the church can give them support.
Presence Ministry: Tell us about your ministry background.
Andrew Gu: I served for 5+ years at the First Evangelical Church of Diamond Bar, including 4 years as full-time youth director. I’ve led worship since high school.。
Tim Lum: I’ve been serving in full time youth ministry at Chinese Baptist Church of Central Orange County for about 4 years. Before that, I had serve at my home church working with college and high school students for about 8 years.
PM: What motivated you to go into youth ministry?
AG: When I was in high school, I noticed how many of my friends came to church because we invited them. A good number of them received Christ and are very active in the church today. So naturally, this age group really resonates with me and is a pivotal time in one’s faith journey.
TL: I had a burden to work with young people when I was in college. I felt that there was a great need to help them grow in their relationship with God and with each other. I felt a lot of my life was shaped by my counselors when I was a teenager too.
PM: What do you find challenging in your position as a youth pastor?
AG: Where do I start? Generally speaking, what needs to be understood is that this time period is probably the time where the most change happens in a person’s life. They are going through adolescence, where changes, not limited to the physical, are occurring. They are trying to figure out their identity as they grow into adulthood.
A youth pastor then finds himself/herself playing many roles in the student’s life. More specifically, for me personally, it would have to be all the “gimmicks” we need to incorporate into sermons/bible studies, etc., which aim to help catch students’ attention. It can be time consuming. I sometimes wish that there was more of a maturity where we can bypass this part and get straight to the heart of the matter.
TL: I find it challenging to reach out to all the youth in my ministry. I realized that I can’t reach out to all of them equally because there is only one of me and many of them. So I rely heavily upon my counselors and student leaders to reach out to the rest of them. I also found it challenging to work with the parents until I learn to communicate better with them. In fact, it helps a lot when I get a few parents involved in the youth ministry.
PM: Do you find that youth pastors today are facing discouragement and perhaps dropping out of ministry?
AG: Of course. But, to be fair, I would say that this is true for all in ministry and for anyone working directly with people.
TL: I think pastors in general are facing discouragement and many of them drop out of ministry because they have too many responsibilities. They may have responsibilities where they are not gifted in, and it can be a very frustrating experience for them.
PM: What do you think contributes to their discouragement?
AG: I think a major issue is that many youth pastors feel alone, especially for youth pastors within a second-generation Asian context. They can feel like they are, along with their ministry, second-class citizens, and that they are not an integral part of the church, even though there are a plethora of beautiful God-filled things occurring within the ministry. Even though the variety of cultural expressions within a church body can be a beautiful thing, it also takes a lot of compromise that both sides needs to be willing to make in order for a church to be truly unified.
TL: There’s a verse in Scripture that I think explains a lot about why pastors face discouragement. “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” (Eph 4:11 NLT)
I think the pastor is expected to fulfill all those roles. The pastor is expected to be the authority figure (apostle), the visionary (the prophet), the evangelist and the pastor and teacher. If a pastor has to fulfill all these roles, I think the person will get burned out. The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 4:12 that it is their responsibility, not one single person’s responsibility. I don’t think there is one single pastor who has all these spiritual gifts. If the church can find people who are gifted in each of these roles, including the pastor, I think there will be less discouragement for the pastor.
PM: What helps a youth pastor stay strong?
AG: One major thing is to continually reaffirm one’s called nature. The fact is that we live in a fallen world and so everything and everyone, including youth pastors, are not perfect. The only way anyone can be successful is to remember to be attached to the Vine, and to know that God is the source and the one who does the work.
TL: I think that if pastors can find out what their gift is and find other people to come along side with the other gifts, that this will help them stay strong. I also think that when they get a lot of support that this will help them stay committed in the church as well.
I read a book called Simple Church which made me look at my youth program differently. Instead of putting a lot of different programs, I try to fit things into three programs. I’ve learned from other pastors that planning ahead and structuring things in a simple matter makes a difference. I’m trying to work with my counselors and teachers to look at the three programs differently. The Worship service is more inspirational in nature. The Sunday school is more theological in nature, and the fellowship is more relational in nature. If I set a vision and get my counselors and teachers working towards that vision, it helps a lot. So those are some things that helps me stay strong personally with the ministry.
PM: Where does a youth pastor such as yourself get support? What type of support system is there for youth pastors?
AG: I personally have not found many support systems, although there needs to be more, like youth pastors getting together to mutually encourage one another. Unfortunately, as much as this is important, even youth pastors are too busy to commit to such a support group. And then, there are the unfortunate problems inherent when pastors of different denominations get together. Ironically, our theologies get in the way of us loving each other biblically.
TL: I find support from different people. First I get support from my family. Then I meet with my head pastor weekly for a one on one meeting, and I talk with the other pastors pretty regularly. I also talk to one of my peers for accountability as well. We have an English support group that pastors around the local area can meet pretty regularly too.
PM: What can the church and parents do to help you succeed in ministry?
AG: One big thing would be to trust youth pastors and support them in every possible way. The youth are not the church of tomorrow, but they are an integral part of the church today. Their expression of church will be different and foreign to their parent’s generation, but rest assured, youth pastors love the church and are trying to be faithful to God. They sincerely want what’s best for your children.
TL: I believe the church and the parents are giving me a lot of encouragement and support. The church leaders are constantly praying for me and praying with me. I also have the parents involved in the youth ministry. I give weekly emails to the parents so they can see what we are teaching. I also found great encouragement from parents who got involved as counselors and coaches for our youth programs. They also help me provide rides for the youth for our socials, and they help chaperon our kids for our youth retreats.