CLERGY CORNER: Confessions of a youth pastor: part 1

Posted on 10 August 2017 by LeslieM

It’s by no accident you’re reading this article. I pray that what I’m about to reveal to you expands your awareness of what’s happening in the youth culture, and also provides practical ways for you to cultivate a healthier relationship with your youth pastor. What follows is the secret confession of a youth pastor.

To start, know that accessibility to technology and the prevalence of information — real or fake — has significantly altered this thing we call student ministry. 

Young teens are sexting or filming themselves performing sexual acts, which they post to social media. They take polls asking their followers to vote on what “stupid s***,” they should do on Snapchat, like destroying property or pretending to have a mental illness. They play beer pong — at least the 12-year-olds substitute alcohol for Monster energy drinks, and, of course, they light things on fire. 

The older students self-inflate their status, hoping to feel more important as they strive to live up to society’s unrealistic athletic or academic expectations. 

In short, it’s the f-word, rebellion, confusion and rejection manifesting itself in the form of social media attention-grabbing. They are painfully attention-starved and insecure, and their new drug is follower engagement, “likes” and such.

It’s a new frontier. The days of “playing games with the youth” have ended. As a matter of fact, if I’m being honest, some days I’m with students from morning until evening, living in their new world, trying to help them navigate their wounds and baggage. It’s those days you might find me lying on the floor of my office, gathering the energy needed to drive home.

But that’s okay. Because it’s there, on the carpet where Domino’s icing dipping sauce has been thoroughly trampled into, that I’m reminded to be wholly dependent on God myself and that I’m not alone; I’m co-laboring with others to show these students Jesus. 

I say “co-labor,” because student ministry is a partnership. While the position of youth pastor may have once been to “babysit” the youth while the adults do the “real” ministry, I can assure you, student ministry is real ministry and needs to be connected to the adult congregation.

Studies show that students who experience intergenerational worship are significantly less likely to “graduate” from their faith and walk away from God after high school, as they feel connected to a local church body that continues to love and support them even while away from home.

The reality is that this is a generation crying out for help, but has no idea how to receive and accept the help when it arrives: imagine a drowning victim trying to swim away from the responding lifeguard. 

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans to not “copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2). And that’s where the battleground exists for our youth: their minds. Author Dr. Jean M. Twenge, in her book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us, asserts that this rising generation is “on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.” 

God has placed us in their lives to love and “direct [our] children onto the right path, [so that] when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Next month, I will share practical ways you can co-labor alongside your youth pastor to help the students run their race well — to run the narrow path and not leave it. In the meantime, this is the back-to-school season. Make a commitment, as a family, that no matter the academic, athletic or arts schedule, that you will not forsake time with “[those who are] continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

The youth pastor is not your child’s primary disciple-maker. You are.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments he can be reached at cj@dfb.church.

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