Breaking the Youth Pastor Mold

Back in the 90s there was a stereotypical youth pastor. He was a young, hip, 20-something who had just graduated from Bible college or grew up in the church he was now serving. He was loud, played guitar, and had a stellar video game collection. He introduced students to games that today would lead to a lawsuit, drove the church van like it was a hot rod, and only stuck around for 2-4 years. He typically got talked to by the elders at least once a month about the students’ and his behavior that the church didn’t like.

Fast forward to today and youth pastors look exceptionally different. We come in all different shapes, sizes, personalities, ages, and backgrounds. And not all of us are male either. We live in a very different world where youth ministers have changed and grown into capable leaders and servants who remain in youth ministry for years, even decades. But the reality is that the perception of a youth pastor has not changed.

There are still those who look at youth pastors as assistant-level staff, who do not function in the same capacity as senior-level staff. They still see a youth pastor as the immature and brazen young person looking to make a name for themselves. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of today’s youth pastors look exceptionally different.

Yes, many youth pastors will be young and fresh and looking to take the world by storm for Jesus, but that doesn’t just describe youth pastors. I became a senior pastor when I was just 23 and I will tell you, that was a challenge. I was seen as the young and rash pastor who was trying to move in on the turf of the veterans in town. But the truth is that there a variety of styles, shapes, and personalities when it comes to being any type of pastor. It isn’t an age or maturity issue, it is a calling.

So what makes a youth pastor? The calling and passion that God Himself has instilled in someone’s life. I have had the pleasure of learning under, working with, and witnessing youth pastors of all different types lead and care for students. They were loud, soft spoken, energetic, reserved, up front people, the behind the scenes type, gifted in speaking, a counselor, a Disney movie lover, a cat hater, a big kid, a theologian. But most of all, they were men and women who above all else loved Jesus and loved students as He did.

Today, youth pastors are vastly different than they were back in the 90s. They aren’t looking to use youth ministry as a stepping stone to being a senior pastor. They aren’t looking to break all the church rules and upset the elder board. They aren’t looking to be everyone’s best friend. They are looking to love students where they are at, to be a beacon of light in a dark world that tells students God doesn’t matter or care. They are ministering to students who have been hurt, abused, told they aren’t worth anything, forgotten, cast out, and left alone.

Youth pastors stand together under the banner of Christ to care for the upcoming generations that are hurting and broken. They are old, young, short, tall, black, white, Bible school dropouts and seminary grads. They are dynamic speakers who draw crowds and quiet disciple makers who draw 4-5 students. They are musicians and people who sing poorly, loudly proclaiming the salvation of Jesus. They are fallen people who would do anything to be the hands and feet of Jesus today to the students they serve.

I am proud to say I am a youth pastor. I am not a silicone mold, I am my own person. I do not fit the stereotype. I am broken, I am sinful, I am forgiven, I have a calling, and I love students. To all my fellow youth pastors: you matter more than you know! We may never hear it, but the impact we have on the lives of the students we serve is greater than we will see this side of heaven. Fight the good fight brothers and sisters, and never fit the mold! Be you, be unique, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to students you serve.

I am a youth pastor! What’s your story?

8 Ways to Handle Frustration in Work and Ministry

Disclaimer: The following piece has nothing to do with my current employment or my current feelings toward it. This is simply a piece designed to help those who are struggling in their work and ministry contexts as I know there are times we all question why we are doing what we are doing. With that said, I have been there, I have had feelings of inadequacy, wanting to walk away, and feeling like I needed a change of scenery. I am hoping that offering some advice, encouragement, and personal insight may help those around me.

Your boss walks into your office Tuesday morning, sits down and tells you that your department met your quota and beat out every other department, but he is downsizing yours due to budgetary reasons. Oh and by the way he expects you to maintain your quota in the same time frame you just met.

Your senior pastor meets you as you are setting up for programming and seemingly off the cuff states “You and I don’t appear to be on the same mission together…we need to fix that. Oh and how did last night go?”

You just successfully ran your organization’s biggest fundraiser and netted them the largest amount of donations they have ever had. Some of your fellow employees walk over after the evening has ended and all they can do is complain about the service, food, pleading for money, and how you should have chosen a different career path.

You work in a male-dominated office where you are never taken seriously. Jokes are constantly made about how you should handle all the office parties because you’re a woman and know about cooking and decorating. Every time you suggest something that could improve your work environment, or the entire company, you are given the proverbial pat on the head and told to let the men handle the real work.

The elder board calls you in for an emergency meeting. You show up thinking you are ready for anything, but then they look at you and say, “Well, you have done a good job here. But your ministry costs a lot of money, money we don’t have…so we are going to have to let you go.” What are you going to tell your wife and kids?

Many of us have had experiences just like these or very similar. Some of you reading this may be walking through these circumstances right now, and perhaps you found yourself yelling in affirmation, “That’s me!” Work or ministry is hard at times and it drains you. I totally get it.

My ministry is my career. I love what I do. I am passionate about it. And to be frank: I have been hurt a lot in ministry. I have also been hurt in careers outside of ministry. I have been let go, I have been criticized for how I ran my team, I have had to fire people because I was told to, I have been told maybe ministry isn’t my calling, I have been told I work for Satan. I don’t offer these as a way of saying, “Look, I have weathered the storm why can’t you?” I offer this to say, “I understand.” I have walked through garbage in my jobs and career as well. I simply want to offer you some reflective reasons for why this happens, and some means to cope. Neither will be exhaustive, but my hope is to encourage you, any of you, who are reading this and feeling spent, hurt, forgotten, or marginalized.

So why does this happen? Before we get into this I would ask that we lay aside all default defenses. Yes, your boss could be the reason. They could just be a horrible person who hates life, teddy bears, and small children. Yes, your work environment could be dismal. The roof leaks, the trash is never emptied, and your co-worker smells. And yes, your job may just be a job. You don’t want to be there, they don’t want you there, and to be honest you are looking elsewhere. There are a lot of circumstances, but I want to look inward, at ourselves. Often times we tend to focus on the problem and refuse to examine ourselves. I am not looking to place blame, I am simply saying let’s take a look at our own hearts and motivations before we do.

Looking inward is more often than not a frustrating and discouraging activity as we see faults, inconsistencies, and sin. It is when we do this that too often we beat ourselves up because we see glaring areas that must be fixed, but my hope is that as we work through these areas we do not become self-deprecating but instead look at this with hope, resiliency, and a desire for change. Again, there are many areas in which we could struggle, but I believe these three are the key areas for many of us.

Selfishness

Often times we place value on our job, our desk, our way of doing things, our methodology, our teaching, our skill set, our ministry…our, our, our! Now here is the thing: what gives you the right to have ownership over anything you do? Your desk was probably there before you started working. That ministry can and will continue without you. Your skills are yours but other people have skills and knowledge as well. The problem is we are told that we deserve something–actually everything–that we want and so we pursue everything as if it is already ours. But the crazy thing is, nothing is yours. The Bible says in Psalm 24 that the entire earth is the Lord’s. Not ours. When we continue with the notion that the items of this world are ours we become selfish, resentful, and indigent with change and new ideas or systems. That is our problem. That is our heart, our sinful nature, grasping and pulling at us telling us that we deserve everything when the truth is we deserve nothing but are given everything.

Pride

Pride is a natural progression from selfishness, but I believe that it is more dangerous. Pride is coupled with arrogance, a critical attitude, and a judgmental spirit that can be disastrous to the workplace, co-workers, relationships, families, and yourself. Now some may jump up and champion that they take pride in their work because they were raised to work hard and this is America! We are proud of our work ethic. And to that I would say good, be proud of it. But where is that pride truly rooted? Is it in yourself, your accomplishments, your work ethic, your neat desk area, your ministry, the growth you brought to your program, the way you lead and teach? Or is it rooted in Christ? When you are proud of your work do you say, “I am proud because God has given me this work ethic, this job, this paycheck, this team, this ministry”? Do you call everything yours or do you thank God that He and He alone has allowed you to step into this career and work for Him, to give Him glory? These are hard questions and I would encourage you to ask them of yourself.

Lack of direction and communication

I am not talking about direction given from a superior. I am talking about how we sometimes show up to just get our job done and do not offer to do anything more, we are content to just meander along without any desire to grow, we simply maintain. This is not okay. Doing this does a disservice to others because it shows a lack of accountability. We are saying that we do not have the capability to think for ourselves and instead pass the blame to someone else. He/she never told me to do this. I never knew I couldn’t put staples in the coffee maker. How was I supposed to know metal in the microwave would cause it to blow up? This can be our mentality because we are rooted in sin. We started doing this at the beginning of time! We pass the blame and hope for the best because we are too stubborn and selfish to ask for direction! If we simply communicated and asked for help so many problems would cease to exist and we could potentially thrive in our careers and ministries.


Finally, I would love to offer some ways to help you cope with your work environment if it is truly a struggle to be there. Because let’s be honest, sometimes the workplace won’t get better. You may be doing everything you can to please God and your boss (no they aren’t the same regardless of what they tell you) and it still is a horrible place to work. So let me offer these thoughts:


1. Pray

Do this a lot! Sometimes in hard times and dismal work environments we forget to simply pray. If you have a nasty boss pray for them. Pray for that “lazy” co-worker. Pray for the janitor who never empties your trash. Pray. You do not know what is going on in that person’s life that could influence the way they behave. So ask God to help you see them as He does: His child that He lovingly created and hopes to have a relationship with.

2. Talk to someone

Go and find someone who is older and wiser than you and seek direction. One of the greatest benefits in my life is having mentors speak into it. These people have helped me grow, called me on my inconsistencies and shortcomings, and have challenge me to be a better man, employee, and servant of God. They also listen and will have your back. If you need help finding someone, ask and I will give some clarifying ways to do so.

3. Communicate with your boss

If work sucks, have you talked to your boss? Have you expressed your dissatisfaction? Have you done so respectfully, without having your frustrations come through, your blood boil, or going with preconceived notions? All of those will contribute to poor communication and lack of results. Go honestly and with a clear head. Share what is going on, ask for change, and be willing to meet halfway or even two-thirds.

4. Take a break

Sometimes you need a vacation. Time to recharge your batteries. Take it! If you are frustrated and upset, now is the time.

5. Ask yourself some questions

Is this the right job for you? What makes this place difficult for you? Why do you stay? Are you contributing to your own frustrations? What would your ideal job look like? Does that job exist? Being honest with yourself and asking hard questions will hopefully bring about some resolve to the situation.

6. Do not take your anger and frustration home

If you are married, have a family, have roommates, trust me they know when you have had a bad day. They know when work is bad, your boss yelled at you, etc. But you do not have to treat them like they are part of the problem. They care about you and only want the best. We need to learn to share our hurts, problems, and issues without getting on them for what happened at work.

7. Look to how Jesus handled conflict

Jesus spoke into the situations calmly, with authority, and with respect. If things got heated (like when they tried to kill Him), He moved on. When people were obnoxious (disciples and Pharisees), He spoke to them in a way to teach them and make them better. Maybe Jesus knew a thing or two about leadership?

8. Write a verbatim

A verbatim is a paper that you write about a conflict you are in. You write down everything that happened word-for-word in a script form (Nick said: blah blah, Tom said: blab blab, etc.). Then you ask probing questions afterward and answer them. What could I have done differently, how did this make me feel, what did I do to contribute to the situation, how did I help the other person, what were all potential outcomes of the situation, how did I respond, how did the other people respond, what could I have done better, how can I fix the situation?


I am no workplace specialist. I do not claim to have all the answers. My desire is that this offers you some hope and encouragement.

Journey in Prayer: 7 Steps Toward a Rich Prayer Life

Prayer is vital to my walk with the Lord. By “prayer,” I mean simply talking with the Lord. I am so grateful that the sovereign Creator, the holy and only God of the universe allows me, a sinful creature, to come directly to Him. He not only allows it, He has made it possible. He has opened the way to Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus. I like how Ephesians 3:12 puts it: “In Him (Jesus) and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Because Jesus died for my sins, rose from the dead, and returned to the Father, I can boldly approach God’s throne of grace through Jesus, my great High Priest (see Hebrews 4:14-16).

I want to share my journey in prayer over the past 43 years. In particular, I want to tell you about specific ways to pray God has shown me. I think of them as prayer steps in my journey with Jesus. Taking these steps has deepened my experience of the Lord through prayer.

Step #1: Committing to a daily time of prayer.

Right after I became a believer in Jesus, during my freshman year of college, I began practicing daily prayer. After I was done with classes for the day, I would return to my dorm room, sit on my bunk and spend time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study. This practice laid the foundation of a daily practice of prayer which has been a bedrock foundation of my journey with Jesus.

Step #2: Using the ACTS approach to prayer.

“ACTS” is an acronym which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. You can find these kinds of prayer used by God’s people in the Bible. Adopting the ACTS approach to prayer has helped me to understand these different types of prayer and to regularly incorporate them in my practice of prayer. Please understand: this is not a rigid formula I follow in all my prayers. Rather, I generally follow this outline during my longer times of prayer. By contrast, if I am in need of God’s immediate help in a particular situation, I do not adore, confess, and thank before I ask Him for His aid. I just cry out, “Help me!”

Step #3: Praying out loud during my personal prayer times.

This step was, and continues to be, very significant. Admittedly, at first it felt strange and awkward. But the more I prayed aloud, the more comfortable I felt. I also realized some real benefits. I was able to focus my thoughts and make my prayers more concrete. Talking aloud increased my sense of actually relating with the Lord, that He indeed was right there with me in the room and that I was personally connecting with Him. On a personal note, being the private person that I am, I need to be assured that no one can overhear me during my prayer times. That means I pray in the basement, usually in the morning before anyone else is up.

Step #4: Praying Scripture.

At first this too may seem a strange approach to prayer. Praying Bible verses back to God?! Yes, indeed! That is exactly what it is. And it’s not just some modern approach to prayer. People in the Bible prayed Bible verses back to God! One very clear example is in Acts 4:23-31 where the believers in the early church incorporated verses from the Old Testament, especially Psalm 2, in their prayer to the Lord. What I have found is that the Bible gives me content for my prayers, especially for the “Adoration” part. I also have the assurance that when I pray Scripture, I am praying what is true and what is according to God’s will (see 1 John 5:14).

Step #5: Praying “all the time.”

My point here is that there came a time in my prayer experience when my praying to the Lord went beyond my designated daily prayer appointment with God. I began to include spontaneous prayers throughout the day. Something along the line of what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” Another way of thinking about this prayer step is captured in the phrase “practicing the presence of the Lord.” It is an increasing awareness of the Lord’s continual presence. This awareness can be expressed through spontaneously praying throughout the day—and when awakening at night—and when I rise in the morning.

Step #6: Having times of unhurried prayer.

I am a structured person by nature. I structure my day according to a schedule—what I do first, then second, then third, etc.—often with specific time allotments attached. In that schedule, my daily prayer is generally confined to a certain amount of time. What I have found very helpful is to plan an unhurried time with the Lord in prayer. Then I am less prone to be thinking about what’s next in the day and I can be more relaxed and focused on praying. I find that my sabbath day (Monday) is the time when unhurried prayer works the best.

Step #7: Saturating my prayer with the Gospel.

This is my most recent prayer step. I am learning how central the Gospel is in my journey with Jesus. Believing in the good news that Jesus died for my sins and came back to life is not simply my “ticket” into heaven. It is the power of God for the continual transformation of my life into Christ’s likeness. I need to evermore believe the Gospel, rehearse it, and live out its marvelous truth. And so I fill my prayers with the Gospel message, especially toward the beginning of my daily prayer time. I have memorized key Bible verses which give the Gospel and I incorporate them into my adoration of the Lord, my thanks to the Lord, and my confession before the Lord.


I have shared with you a lot of things about prayer. My goal in sharing these steps in my journey in prayer is to not to overwhelm you; rather, it is to encourage you to take one step in your own prayer journey. Step #1 is critical and so I urge you if you have not taken this step, start with this one. If you already have a scheduled time of daily prayer, consider taking one of the other steps.

Journey on with the Lord in prayer! It is a wonderful privilege God has provided us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tom Loyola is a senior pastor at an Evangelical Free Church in Iowa. He and his wife Sue Ann have partnered together in pastoral ministry since 1984 and are the parents of two children. Tom received his Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys reading, running, oil painting, and a good movie.

Why Ministry is Worth it

 

Ministry–let’s be real shall we–it isn’t always glorious. It isn’t always rewarding. It isn’t always easy.

You don’t usually hear that right out of Bible college or seminary. You hear just the opposite: You’re equipped! Thousands like you have gone before. Take the world by storm. Be Jesus to the masses.

The reality is this: ministry is difficult, messy, full of broken people, and not about you. This can lead us to some very hard places. Places of doubt and anxiety. Feelings of am I good enough? We may question our calling and if it’s time to move on.

I’ve been there. In fact, if I were completely honest, I’ve been there more times than I care to admit. I just walked through a period exactly like I described. Feelings of doubt. Questions of calling. Hurt. Depression. Worthlessness. Asking God why…

The truth is I questioned if I was to be in ministry after a very, very hard season. A season that saw much pain and grief. A season marked by lack of affirmation, being moved without understanding why, and wondering why we were leaving good students who we loved and cared for.

“God,” I cried out, “Why does it hurt?! Did You not call me to this? Why is there so much pain? Such heartache? Do you have a plan? Am I washed up?”

Many of you are or have been there. You question why. You wonder if you’re called. You take a break from ministry to heal and consider not going back. You cry…for hours, days, months…you’ve been there. I have too.

But in walking through this I have seen that it is worth it. That God has a plan. That ministry can and will get better. That there is light at the end of the very long tunnel. That we are called. That the enemy will try to use doubt, inadequacies, hurtful comments, critical natures, and rough patches to try to turn you from being God’s faithful servant.

Brothers and sisters hear me: we are called according to God’s purpose, by the One who foreknew us, and is using us to accomplish His workmanship! Ministry was never meant to be easy. We are called to a life of difficulty in ministering to a world that has turned its back on its Savior. There will be moments of suffering, moments of fracturing, but also moments of great joy!

We do not do this for our own affirmation. We do not do this for notoriety. We do not do this to be the best friend of students or to be the most popular youth pastor. We do not do this to be liked or given gifts. We do not do this to be the center. We do this to point to the Center: our Savior.

This season was hard. As I was sharing with my students about why God was calling us away. As I wept openly looking at students that I had become a father to. As I asked why, God spoke. He spoke through the many hands that students laid on my wife and I. He spoke through the parents who hugged us goodbye. He nourished our spirits as students and volunteers talked of how God worked through us to help them. He wept with Elise and I as we said goodbye to our home. He rejoiced as we were welcomed to where He called us. He smiled as we connected with new students. He whispered “trust Me” as we began to faithfully walk in a new ministry and season.

My friends. My co-laborers. Know that ministry is hard, but it is worth it! We may not always see it on this side of eternity, but know that you can continue to serve because our rest and our reward is in Him and Him alone. The author and perfecter of all things! It will get better, God will use you, lives will be changed, and God will say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” Ministry is worth it!