I have four kids — three of them have been engaged in student ministry. I’ve worked at three great churches — all of them have incredible student ministries because of their focus on reaching young families. I’ve worked with many churches across the country — some with solid student ministries, and some that weren’t so solid. What does all that experience mean? It means I’m now one of the old guys. And, since I’m officially one of the old guys, I think I’m qualified to give a little fatherly advice to youth pastors.
So, pretend I’m still your cool father. (Not the one who listens to 80s music or lacks a tattoo and failed to purchase a single pair of skinny jeans.) I’ve invited you into my home office to give you a little bit of fatherly advice. (To add to the ambience, I’ll let you sit in my faux leather chair while the aroma of my pretend pipe wafts through the room.) Are you ready?
5 Bits of Fatherly Advice for Youth Pastors
- Don’t have Bible studies on Sunday morning, but encourage my kids to serve. As a parent, I’m constantly battling everything in culture that’s telling my kids, “Life is all about YOU.” I don’t need my church to be compounding that challenge. Please help me parent my kids by encouraging them to serve other people. In the long run, learning to serve will ultimately keep them connected to the church after they graduate. Likely the additional Bible study will not.
- Provide leadership opportunities for my kids. When we become Christ-followers, we receive spiritual gifts. God doesn’t hold on to those gifts until we become adults. In other words, students can also have the spiritual gift of leadership. If you don’t offer opportunities for my kids, they’ll check out of your student ministry and find another organization where they can use their gifts.
- Don’t meet on Sunday night if at all possible. It’s true that there are no school activities on Sunday nights, but Sundays are a very busy evening for my kids. Every bit of homework and test preparation that needs to happen before Monday takes place on Sunday nights, because it certainly didn’t happen on Friday night or Saturday. At all three churches where I’ve served, the midweek student gatherings were always better attended than the Sunday evening gatherings. I know. There will be seasons when athletes may not be able to participate…though you can probably still accommodate them. I believe one of the key reasons midweek is stronger is because my kids can invite their friends at school that afternoon.
- Offer camps in the fall after school starts. I’m pushing against sacred traditions here, but I really believe summer camps are a thing of the past. Where I live, our summer vacations are only about eight weeks long now. We have family trips. My kids have jobs. Their summer and fall sports are in full swing. I can’t afford to spend $1,000 every summer to send my kids to camp. Instead, consider doing a long weekend after school starts. It’s the same principle as Wednesday night gatherings. Not everyone will be able to go. But, the advantages are numerous. It’ll be more affordable. My kids will be able to invite their friends. You’ll have the opportunity to generate momentum for the entire school year. And, when life change happens, you’ll have immediate opportunities to help my kids take their next steps.
- Find the balance between serious and fun. One of my kids offered this at the breakfast table. “When it’s too fun, the youth ministry will just become a big social gathering. When it’s too serious, my social friends won’t show up.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that, because discipleship is both about spiritual disciplines and living life. You can’t become a disciple of Christ without both. We should begin to model that early in the student ministry. And, on a side note, please encourage my kids to live life. They need to be involved in school activities. Don’t pull them out of life when they’re students, because they’ll think that’s what they should do as adults. If we pull them out of life, they can’t fulfill the Great Commission.
Because you’re a punk, I know there’s a good chance you won’t listen to the advice from an old guy like me. It doesn’t matter though — I’m old. I don’t care anymore if I’m a hipster like you. I don’t need to impress. I’m just trying to help you become more effective in your ministry to my kids.