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?