This is from one of our regular commenters Tory Ninja.
I’m a youth pastor in a church in Canada and have worked with youth for the last 10 years. And I think my current position is almost pointless and a waste of funds. Actually, I think the position is pointless in most churches. This post is an explanation as to why.
The short answer is this: Parents.
The long answer is this:
When I came into my current church setting 6 months ago I quickly realized something had gone horribly wrong in the youth and children ministries (the same could be said for the church I was in before). No one knew anything about the Bible or Christianity. Now don’t get me wrong, every class has one or two super geeks. In the church I was in previously the geek had been the son of a missionary, in my current church it is a kid who knows more stuff than most college students on most everything and a young convert girl who used to attend an underground church in China. But other than these people, who had external reasons to know things, no one knew anything.
Actually, Christianity didn’t really seem to impact any of their lives beyond coming to church on Sunday and giving lip service to some sort of Christian/secular garbage morality. Their knowledge of the Bible is non-existent. For example, most people did not know the story of Noah’s Ark. Now, I don’t mean they were confused over whether it was a local flood, or a global flood, or a literary creation. Oh no, if only! Rather, they just didn’t know the story… at all. Most of these kids (14-17) had grown up in the church. So what went wrong?
The first place you would think is the problem is with the church. We must be some sort of hippy liberal, let’s talk about our feelings, never bring out the Bible because it’s old and outdated, type of church. Nope. We are actually quite a strongly conservative, very biblically based, and incredibly mission orientated denomination. To become a pastor in this denomination, (I’m not talking about ordination here, that’s even harder), you literally have to know the Bible and theology better than anyone in the pew would know. You get grilled. Most people fail when they apply, and many people who apply are graduates from the denomination’s seminaries. (They do let you try again, and most people eventually pass after lots of study). I remember one of the questions I was asked was “Hmmm, you say in your application that you like history. Could you please explain to us the history behind the canon development of the Bible?” and many questions I answered were followed up with “are you really sure? Do you actually believe that? But what about these verses here, how would you respond to those? What is the context of the verse you just cited to us?” Etc. We have national Bible championships. We are actually growing as a denomination, and have never stopped growing since our founding. My church fits quite nicely within the denomination. We care about knowing our stuff.
So if my church is in a denomination like the one described above, how did my youth never hear the story of Noah’s Ark? Well, to tell the truth, they have probably heard it countless times. But they don’t care. For example, one day I asked my class what the Gospel was. I wasn’t looking for a fully orbed answer, just the basic “Jesus died for my sins” answer. No one answered. I then asked a youth who had taking the essentials to Christianity class TWICE. He said he didn’t know. I then said, didn’t you take the essentials to Christianity class? He replied, word for word, “Yeah, but I didn’t pay attention the second time”… Face palm. I wanted to say “well, what about the first time”?
So what’s going wrong? This brings me to my answer: Parents. They are not doing their jobs. Let me give an example. I also run the children’s ministry and thus get to talk to children quite often. Most of the children in my ministry who are over 6 and under 9 have seen “Saw”, and some have seen “Hostel”. If you don’t know what those movies are, they are basically torture porn. You see people tortured. Lots of it. These kids got access to these movies from their parents. The parents didn’t even watch the movies with them, they put them on and then walked out of the room. This isn’t just my church. This is in churches EVERYWHERE in North America. This is just one of many examples that tells me that parents aren’t doing their job of discipling their kids in the Christian faith.
Sending children to a youth ministry is pointless if the parents aren’t actively discipling their kids during the week. Christianity just won’t stick. For example, why do the kids of most immigrants lose the mother tongue of their parents? Well, because they spend at least 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, at school taught in English. All their friends speak English. All the media they watch and listen to is in English. The only time they even hear their mother tongue is at home. And unless the parents make a concerted effort to teach the language and to emphasize its importance, the child will lose the language. They may understand it. But they will barely be able to speak it, it won’t impact their lives, and they will most definitely not pass it on to their kids.
The same thing goes for Christianity. If the parents aren’t actively, every day, teaching and discipling their kids in Christianity it’s content and its importance then there is almost no point in sending them to a youth ministry. If the parents aren’t every day praying with their kids, teaching them how to share their faith, giving them good reasons to be Christians, etc. they are not being good Christian parents. I take this very seriously. For example, my one year old daughter (almost two) already knows how to pray. We can’t eat meals without praying otherwise she will start screaming at us to pray. She will say amen after worship songs at church. We read the Bible to her EVERY night. As she gets older, we are going to take an active everyday role in teaching her the precious truths of the Gospel. She will memorize Scripture. She will learn about other religions and worldviews and how to interact with them. Will this guarantee she will be a Christian when she grows up? No, not at all. If we don’t do it right, she might even rebel because of our training! But if she ceases to be a Christian it won’t be for a lack of knowledge, or a lack of critical engagement, or a lack of seeing her parents treat Christianity as something important.
If parents aren’t actively involved in their child’s faith, sending them to a youth ministry will be pointless, even destructive. Now some of you may be saying “But pastor, don’t you have children and youth with non-Christian parents? If youth ministry is destructive for youth with Christian parents who don’t live like Christians, wouldn’t that be the same for youth with non-Christian parents? Yet it is clearly better for youth with non-Christian parents to come to church so they can at least hear the gospel some times even if they don’t hear it at home. So wouldn’t it be the same for youth with Christian parents who are failing at discipling?” Good question. And the answer is no.
Here’s why. It has been my experience that the youth with non-Christian parents are often much stronger Christians than those youth who have Christian parents who are failing as Christian parents (which is most of them). See, a youth with non-Christian parents has a good reason for why their parents don’t disciple them in Christianity: they’re non-Christians! Thus, the bad example of the parents only reinforces in the youth that they need to use their own initiative to learn about the Christian faith. But if a youth has Christian parents, and the Christian faith isn’t the most important thing in the parents lives, the youth is going to learn that Christianity is really not that important. If the parents never read their Bible, the youth is going to think that is acceptable. If the parents emphasize school more than Christ, the youth is going to think school is more important, no matter what the parents say about Jesus. If the parents emphasize sports more than Christ, the youth is going to think sports are more important, no matter what the parents say about Jesus. The hypocrisy of the parents will destroy their child’s faith.
Which leads me to the whole point of this post, Why are youth pastors in many churches pointless and a waste of funds? Because youth pastors aren’t in charge of the single most important thing in a youth’s walk with Christ: the parents. The senior/main pastor is. The youth pastor actually has zero control over the constituency that he is suppose to shepherd. Thus, it is becoming my conviction that having a separate pastor for the youth in most churches is a waste of resources. Until a church has a senior pastor who is actively promoting and discipling adults to be good parents, and actually seeing results from that discipleship, there is no point in hiring a youth pastor. A youth pastor will not solve the “youth problem”. If anything, given that most youth pastors know very little about the Christian faith, and also usually have much lower requirements to be in that position, they will probably do more harm then good. Why waste thousands of dollars on a youth pastor when an educated lay leader would almost certainly be better? Use that extra money for buying good educational resources, or use it for missions/outreach, etc. Don’t waste it on a youth pastor. He will not solve the problem. That needs to start with the senior pastor and the parents. A youth pastor can be incredibly effective, but only if the senior pastor and the parents are doing their jobs.
I am currently half way through my one year probation at the church I am at. The church has taken quite the financial burden in hiring me. They know the youth and children ministries need help, because very few of their youth and children remain in the faith after high school, many drop out before graduating high school. But I can’t even begin to help with the problem until the parents start doing their job. And that’s not my job. Sure, I have met with parents one on one. But it is hard to flat out tell parents they have failed at parenting one on one to their face when you have only talked to them once or twice before. That will just close them off to you. And when I tried to give a parent seminar, almost no parents showed up. Thus, given my new convictions, at the end of my one year probation, I may very well step down as youth pastor. Until the entire ethos of my church changes, and people start taking the raising of their kids seriously, I am a total waste of funds. It is better to just have an educated lay leader do my job, or one of the other pastors to take my load.
As a final point, I’m not saying youth or children ministry is pointless. It is incredibly important. Let me say it again: youth ministry is incredibly important. But there is no reason to spend thousands of dollars hiring a youth pastor in a church that doesn’t already have parents doing their job. Until that happens, save your funds, and use dedicated lay leaders.
And that is why youth pastors are usually pointless and a waste of funds.
His previous post is here. Some days, I wish I had gotten married and had children. I’m sure I could do a better job leading the children than these bad church parents have done. And I’m sure I could do a better job of leading the parents than these lame, feminized pastors.