Am I Too Old for Student Ministry? [Part Two]

Last week we dove into the topic of being “too old” to serve in student ministry, and dispelled some myths we have allowed ourselves to believe. Today we’re continuing that conversation.

There are times in student ministry when we begin asking questions about ourselves and if we are still called to serve in the same capacity. Often times this happens after a difficult season, a rough conversation, or when we are close to burnout. We also see this manifest itself in regard to age. We ask if we have been in it too long, if we are still relevant, or if we’re called elsewhere because we’ve done our time.

If you are currently serving in student ministry and asking if you have gotten to be “too old” for it, let me encourage you to ask yourself some questions and self-assess. Take time to think through why you are feeling this way, and if you need to make a change. The following questions aren’t meant to be a fix all, but instead designed to have you critically analyze where you are, and determine the reasons behind your feelings.

Am I still relating to students and parents?

Often times we ask ourselves if we are still relating well. I think we sell ourselves short and believe that if we aren’t completely relevant we aren’t relating well. Relating isn’t about relevance, it is about relationships. Ask yourself if you are still communicating the truths of Scripture into the lives of those under your charge.

If you find that perhaps you aren’t, or there isn’t the passion you had before, dig into the reasons behind it. Check your heart and your relationship with Jesus. Ask, “What is keeping me from pouring out?” Seek to recharge, grow, and improve, and then see what God does.

Is there something I am not doing that I should do to be a better leader?

Often when we feel burned out or that we are “too old,” we need to step back and ask if there’s something missing. Is there something you could be doing to help you be better at what is happening in your ministry? If you find yourself not being up to running games anymore, that isn’t cause to stop being in student ministry but instead is an opportunity to empower and build up other leaders to help carry the charge. Instead of looking to walk away, first look to see if there are areas to improve.

Have I stopped caring?

If you find yourself not caring anymore, let me encourage you to take some time away and do some internal checkups on yourself. Often when we get frustrated or hurt and nothing is done to rectify that moment, we tend to want to walk away and be done. If you find you have stopped caring, please take time to self-assess and heal. Look deeply into what is causing these feelings and seek to move forward in healing for yourself. If you allow this feeling to continue to grow and fester it won’t only hamper your ministry to students but also your relationship with God.

Why do I view myself as inadequate or antiquated?

I have often heard from older and more seasoned volunteers that they feel inadequate or antiquated and because of that, they aren’t sure they should continue serving. Let me pause and say that no matter what age you are, you can still pour into the lives of students. Step back and ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. What has led you to this moment? Was it a hard moment, a parent’s comment, was it some asking you if you can keep serving students? Stop and assess, and then look at your heart and what you are passionate about. Are you still feeling called to love and care for students? If so, stick with it and run after them.

What am I looking for?

This is a hard question to ask because it gets to the root of what we are desiring. You must ask yourself if you are looking to “advance” or if God is truly calling you to a different role. I want to be pretty blunt here: student ministry is not a lesser role, nor is it a stepping stone for advancement. If you are using it that way, please step out sooner than later because ultimately you will hurt students and hamper their spiritual growth. In order to find out what you are looking for, let me encourage you to think through these areas: are you looking to advance in status, are you looking for better pay, do you want an easier role, is God calling you elsewhere, or are you just frustrated in the moment? These will help you to discern more about what is happening in your heart and where you need to be.

Do I need to find time to rest and recharge?

Many times when we question our abilities or consider stepping away, it is because of overworking and burnout. Before you think about throwing in the towel, take time to rest, reevaluate, spend time with Jesus, and have mentors speak into your life. Being able to reevaluate with a fresh set of eyes and a still heart will help you to see what is truly happening and engage in healthy ways.

Am I still excited about student ministry?

If you are serving in student ministry and your passion isn’t there, ask yourself if you still find joy in what you do, or is just something you show up to. There are seasons that are harder than others, but if you have found yourself to be struggling in enjoying what you do and what you are called to, get some people to speak into your life. Look at your relationships with God, family, and friends and see if you’re getting fed. Often we must look to the heart to see if we are spiritually healthy and then we can assess why we aren’t excited about our calling.

Am I simply looking for something different?

Sometime we just need a change of scenery. This isn’t a calling away from youth ministry but perhaps God is moving you in another direction to help others. First ask yourself if you are just looking to shake things up. Do you just need to try something new or change the structure, schedule, or format of the program? Don’t just walk away, look to see if changing something is where you are being led.

What would my students say if I left?

This isn’t the final and only say because there are always students who will say not to leave and the wise-cracking ones who will say you should never have come. But what I would encourage you to do is ask former and current students who you know have valid and thoughtful insight and see what they say. Ask them how they would feel if you left. Ask them if they could see God directing you elsewhere. Sometimes what we need to hear is encouragement that we are doing what God has called us to, and let’s be honest…the praise and encouragement of a students means a lot to us. Knowing we are doing what we are called to and that life change is happening is often the encouragement we need to continue in student ministry.

Am I making a difference?

This is a question you should ask yourself, your leaders, parents, and those closest to you. Don’t bank on one negative comment, or one student who writes off your program, but listen to those who know and love you. Let them be honest with you and see what their honest insight is into your ministry. A second set of eyes goes a long way in encouraging us and making sure we are on the right path.


Some of the best leaders I have served with have been many generations removed from this current one, and their students loved them. Not because of their sport prowess, or their ability to use technology, but because their leaders loved them, championed them, challenged them, and lived out Jesus to them.

No matter your age, if you are called, you are called! Personally, I believe an inter-generational student ministry is one where students, leaders, and families will thrive. Every ministry and church is to be a picture of heaven, and as such should have an inter-generational focus to it. We are called to shepherd and love those who are younger, and we are to mirror the kingdom of heaven in all we do. Because of that we should have old and young people together. Grandparents and parents should be serving with students. And the church should be a place of discipleship and inter-generational ministry. You are never too old, you are called and chosen!

Am I Too Old for Student Ministry? [Part One]

What is the ideal age to volunteer in youth ministry? At what age should I step away from working with youth? Am I too old to volunteer? Is there any real benefit to having older generations serve in student ministry?

These are questions I have been asked countless times in a multitude of ministry settings. For some reason we have begun to believe that our ability to to engage with and serve others is directly dependent upon our age. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I get into the “right age for student ministry leaders” let me first dispel some myths we have allowed ourselves to believe:

I don’t understand culture, therefore I cannot relate to students.

I think sometimes we try to sell ourselves short because there is a generational divide or perhaps we don’t understand what is happening in our world. But the reality is you don’t need to understand culture to love and serve students. We aren’t called to be ambassadors for the culture but for Christ. So I would encourage you to consider stepping in and leading students by showing how the Gospel permeates all parts of their lives. But also let me encourage you to be a student of culture. Don’t sit by and think that because you can point students to Jesus, that you don’t need to understand what is happening. This is their world, so understanding it more will help you better serve them and point them to Jesus.

Technology isn’t for me, so I can’t communicate in the way students need.

I get it! It is so hard to keep up with technology, in fact students struggle with it too. What might be in today, will be replaced tomorrow. But here is what you need to know: simply because you don’t understand or don’t use technology is not a reason to be disqualified from serving in student ministry. In fact, I believe students need to disconnect from technology more because they are missing out on interpersonal relationships. Using who you are and your desire to connect on a relational level with them is more valuable than your technological prowess. Use this as leverage, not a crutch. But let me also encourage you to at least get into texting with students. You don’t need to use social media (although it wouldn’t hurt to have an account), but texting is the way the majority of students communicate. And if you don’t have a texting plan, check out various free apps (like WhatsApp) to use texting free of charge over WiFi.

I am too old to keep up with students, so I’m out.

Let me be pretty frank here: I am 33 years old and I can’t keep up with students. I try, but usually just end up getting hurt. Just because we may not have the physic we once did, the ability to put away food and not gain weight, or the energy that our students have isn’t a reason to walk away. Some of the coolest moments I have witnessed is when my older leaders love on students, play games even when they know they won’t win, and encourage their students. The ability to laugh, share life, and just be with one another is more important than being able to “keep up” with them. You don’t need to be the superstar athlete or the leader who can compete in triathlons, you need to be a leader who loves students, pours into them, validates them, and sticks around. That is more important than trying to keep up.

Students won’t listen to me because I am so old.

Students can be tough. I am a student pastor and there are times I truly wonder if they hear what I am teaching them. I prepare messages, I study hard, I try to relate, but there are moments I know they don’t listen. But I am not saying that to discourage you. In fact I am saying that to encourage you! Because while some students may not always listen, there are those that do. And even the ones who may not listen for a season do hear and learn from what you say and do. Don’t think that if someone doesn’t listen you aren’t needed or valued. In fact it is just the opposite. Lean in, keep pursuing them, and love them all the more.

I am more of a parent figure than a leader.

Sweet! Me too! I have worked with many parents and grandparents who don’t want to be seen that way because they fear it will keep students from opening up or discredit them. What I say to that is this: students need parents and parent figures. So many students today don’t have solid parents or role models so be that for them. Show them what a loving mom or dad or grandparent looks like. You aren’t there to parent them, but to love them and point them to Jesus, and the way you do that is by being who God has made you to be. Mom, Dad, brother, sister, grandpop, grandmom, and friend. That is who you are live it out. Don’t pigeonhole yourself and think it disqualifies you, use who God made you to be to reach students.

Teens scare me! I don’t think I could do this.

That’s okay, adults scare me! There are always going to be moments when fear invades our hearts, but we cannot give it the ability or the forum to control our lives. If you are scared of serving students, ask yourself, “What scares me about it?” And seek to overcome it. God didn’t give you a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power! Use it and pour into students.

So to answer the question, what is the right age…well honestly the right age is whenever God calls you to student ministry. You are never too old, you are never too removed, you are never past your prime. If God has put students on your heart run after them. Love them like Christ loves the church. Share life with them. Listen to them. Mentor them and bring them in. Don’t let perceived inadequacies or fear keep you from action, but rely upon God, study up on culture, and run hard after students.

If you are currently serving in student ministry and wondering if you are “too old” for it, next week we will dive into some questions you can ask to self-assess.

Surviving the Tough Side of Ministry: 7 Thoughts on Self-Care

Let’s be real for a moment: Ministry is hard. It can be soul crushing, emotionally draining, depressing, and filled with anxiety. It has extreme highs, but also some of the darkest lows.

As a pastor or ministry leader, we feel the weight of what is happening in our ministries and churches. We bear the hurt and pain of our people, we feel deeper than most because we have been called to care for God’s sheep. The words people say, the loose tongue of a parent, the critique of a church member, a critical response from a staff member; they cut deep. We begin to question our skill set, our passion, our knowledge, and yes, even our calling. There are moments we feel so inadequate we feel like walking away. Moments after an amazing event or conversation that break us and make us feel worthless. Moments when we question, “why do I even do this anymore?”

Perhaps you are there now. Maybe it is has been that type of day, week, month, or year for you. Brothers and sisters let me encourage you: God has called you to this! You are being used in ways you could not imagine, and He is at work in and through you! Know you are not alone. I, we, have been there. And by His grace and the support of others you will make it through this season.

I have experienced deep hurt in ministry. I have been accused, personally and professionally attacked, and had my calling challenged. But as hard as those moments have been I have come out stronger, more affirmed, and more confirmed in my calling. The fire doesn’t stop you, it refines you. The pain you walk through, the burdens you bear, make you a better pastor and shepherd of your people. Know that the pain and hurt isn’t the defining moment of who you are, but a moment to better refine you to be who God has destined you to be. So as someone who has been in these moments and continues to walk through them, I want to offer you a few thoughts on self-care.

1. Make sure you are spending time with Jesus outside of “work time.” Don’t let prep for your Sunday or midweek service be your time with Jesus. Don’t just pray at church venues. Spend constant daily time with Jesus, and just like we tell our students, even if it is hard. Throughout the Psalms we see David struggle in his relationship with God but it doesn’t stop him from going to God. Be raw and real. Be honest with God about where you are.

2. Be honest with your spouse. I get it, we try to spare them and not burden them. Certain leadership moments and meetings have to stay there. But you need to be honest about where you are at and what you are feeling. If it has been a hard day, don’t mask it and don’t try to hide it. Be honest. This isn’t a free pass to be a complete tool to your spouse, but being honest and processing your feelings and responses is healthy and needed for your soul. Bring them in. Share what is happening so you have the one person God designed for you walking with you.

3. Go to a trusted mentor or leader outside the church and ask for their insight, feedback, and encouragement. I would highly encourage that you go to someone outside the church who is removed from whatever is happening. Often we will feel depleted and used up because of a certain moment, comment, person, or leader who is in our congregation. Having a removed third party will offer creative and critical insight into helping you move through it, grow, and respond. Find someone who has served in ministry longer than you and who understands the demands you are faced with.

4. Find someone to talk to. What I mean by this is that in many cases it is healthy to speak to a counselor about what is happening because of how it is affecting you. There are so many preconceived notions about counselors and counseling, but let me dispel them for you. I actually believe that it is healthy for all ministers (and their families) to periodically see a counselor to process what is happening in their lives. This isn’t a sign of weakness or defeat, but of strength and victory. Often a knowledgeable source and listening ear can offer effective, meaningful, and corrective insight into how to grow, adapt, and become stronger in who God made you to be.

5. Be honest with your superiors. I know as I type this that many will chuckle and say “yeah right!” I totally get it, I really do. I have been burned my superiors more than once. I have been hung out to dry. But here is the thing: that isn’t always the case. I am still trying to move past my timidity in bringing leadership in, but what I can tell you is that in my current context my superiors are for me! It is such a welcomed change, but if I had not brought them in I would still be on an island. Being honest with those over you before things blow up allows you to build trust and rapport, and to have people who have your back.

6. Step back and self-assess. Often times when we are hurt it may be due to our own pride and insecurities, but we don’t always see it. It is easy when many sing our praises, but if one negative comment crushes you and makes you question what you are doing, consider stepping back. Take some time to assess what you value: is it the praise and affirmation, or seeing the kingdom of God advanced? Either way there is still hurt and difficult moments, but the result is much different depending on where our heart is. So take a couple of days to remove distractions and spend time with God. Have others speak into your life. Bring in trusted mentors and confidantes. And use this as a time to heal and refresh.

7. Make sure your priorities are in order. I think what happens to the best of us is we make our ministry the focus of who we are and what we do. We are all about it because God has called us to it. But we cannot forget our first calling is to be a child of God. If we forget that our first calling is to love God, and instead believe the lie that serving our ministry is the same thing, then perhaps we need to step back from ministry. The same can be said of your family life. If you find you are sacrificing time with family, your spouse, your kids to be at your ministry, I would argue it is time for you to reassess your priorities. We are called first as children of God, second as husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers, and third as ministry leaders. We are to make sure our relationship is right with God, right with the family that is to mirror our relationship with Jesus, and then right with our ministry we serve in.

The reality is this: ministry is hard. But the reward is this: people will know Jesus and experience eternity with Him. The calling you carry is a heavy one my friends, but know you don’t do it alone. You have many who have gone before, many surrounding you now, and a Father who cares more than you can know. He will sustain and use you through the darkest of moments.

You have been called for a purpose, you are a kingdom worker, you are a chosen child of God, and you are chosen for such a time as this. Know that I am praying for you and am always willing to talk.

8 Tips for Ministering to Pastor’s Kids

I’m sure a lot of you have witnessed, or even been a part of, conversations that at some point included a comment like, “You know pastor’s kids,” accompanied by a sigh, eye roll, or shake of the head. If not that, then the comment that goes something like, “I really thought PK so-and-so would know better…” At some point you have probably witnessed a comment born out of the age-old stigma that pastor’s kids are (at the least) problematic.

I know this isn’t a prevalent issue in all churches. In fact many work hard to make sure PKs don’t feel stigmatized or ostracized. But the stigma can still manifest itself in smaller, less obvious ways. The root of the problem many times is assumptions. And those assumptions can leave PKs feeling frustrated, devalued, unseen, and even unloved.

I wanted to write on this issue because I have been a PK all my life. And to be totally honest, there were times I loved it and times I hated it. Most of the time I remember just wanting to be treated like a normal student. If I could simply blend into the group instead of being called out frequently, if I could just be treated like everyone else instead of being held to some unspoken expectation, I would have the opportunity to experience church like everyone else.

There will undoubtedly come a time when you will have at least one pastor’s child in your ministry. And you will have the opportunity to either love them well, or interact with them through assumptions, without ever truly getting to know them. The choice is yours.

In this post I’m sharing some basic tips that have been born out of my personal experience and observations, both as a student and leader in different youth ministries. I realize everyone’s experience is different, so if you haven’t found yourself making any of these assumptions, I applaud and sincerely thank you. Regardless of where you feel like you fall, however, I encourage you to keep reading.

The important thing to remember is each student, PK or not, is unique and will come to your ministry with different life experiences and needs. Checking your expectations and assumptions–and how they manifest in your responses and treatment of students–will help lay the groundwork for interacting with students well.

1. Take the time to get to know the person behind the label. This is the first and best thing you can do when ministering to pastor’s kids. Get to know them. Just them. Once you form a personal relationship, you will be better equipped to speak into their life as someone who knows them, not as someone who knows their parents. This will also help you in understanding their giftings and passions.

Youth leaders can sometimes assume PKs are or should be leaders in the group based on who their parents are, or the platform they seemingly have. And sometimes that is exactly where PKs are gifted–in leadership. But the only way to truly know this is to get to know the student personally.

2. Don’t treat PKs differently or hold them to a different standard than other students (unless they have been knowingly placed in a leadership position they have accepted). If you find yourself treating a PK differently than you would a non-PK student, ask yourself why you are doing this. If it’s simply because of who their parents are, or because of who you think they should be, you are leaving them out of the equation and it’s time to go back to the first point.

If you have gotten to know the PK and you want to encourage them to step into their gifting, make sure you have that conversation with them. If you see potential, meet with them to discuss what you see in them and how they could step into a leadership role. Make sure they agree to being a leader before making them one.

3. Don’t assume PKs are called to ministry. Just because a student is the child of a pastor does not mean they are called to ministry, or that they should be a leader within the group. Being a PK does not automatically qualify one for ministry or for leadership.

A PK’s potential should be recognized and cultivated just like any other student. If a pastor’s child has leadership qualities or another gift you notice, speak to that gift as you get to know him or her. But be aware, because of the nature of their parents’ leadership, some PKs may vehemently resist ministry involvement, regardless of their gifts. If this is the case, don’t try to force the issue. PKs need to know that they have the space, freedom, and acceptance to simply be themselves.

4. Don’t assume PKs are being discipled at home, or that they have an advanced knowledge of the Bible. It’s time for some hard truth. In some ministry contexts, pastors spend much more time caring for the church than their own family. Some pastors don’t know how to do discipleship with their children, and some simply choose not to. Never assume that a PK is getting discipleship or additional Biblical education at home.

With that said, please don’t “skip over” PKs for discipleship, Bible study, or mentoring just because their parent is a pastor. They may be in desperate need of care, attention, and guidance.

5. Don’t assume PKs have a great relationship with their parents or an excellent home life. Going along with the previous point, never make assumptions about a PK’s home life. Again, if a person in ministry does not have a good family- and church-life balance, they can end up neglecting their family, or at the very least, inadvertently sending a message to their family that they are less important than the rest of the church.

It’s important to be aware of this, and to allow this potential reality to shape how you treat and respond to PKs. If a PK is acting out, vying for attention, or shutting down, there may be more going on than their simply being “a typical pastor’s kid.” Some PKs also have to deal with stressors external to their family. Some have watched their parents walk through incredibly hard things. Until you have seen the full picture, don’t assume a PK is being difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.

6. Don’t call a PK out in front of the group, simply because they are a PK. If you’re irritated with a PK, this can be an easy trigger response. If they’re not meeting your expectations–continually disengaging, talking during the lesson, or seemingly distracting others–it can be an easy gut reaction to call them out specifically in front of the whole group. And in some cases, this may be an appropriate response, but weigh it carefully. If you’re calling them out because they’re a PK and “should know better,” it’s time to reevaluate.

Would you or do you give more grace to a non-PK engaging in the same behavior? Are you more patient with the “other kids”? Are you trying to make a PK fit a preconceived notion you have about them? Again, if a PK hasn’t knowingly stepped into a leadership position, beware of treating them differently than the rest of the group. Besides being unfair, this sends a message that you are more compassionate and understanding toward other students, but you have no patience for the pastor’s child.

In the end, getting singled out, especially if this is a repeat occurrence, will help foster a spirit of mistrust, frustration, and bitterness. If you are noticing ongoing behavioral issues, that is something to handle on a more personal level. Show your students that you respect them, even in the midst of your frustrations, and give them the benefit of the doubt. (It may look like a PK disrupted the group, but you might have missed that someone else actually initiated the disruption.) This approach will go a lot farther in helping to build bridges of understanding between you and the PK.

7. Use discretion when deciding what to report back to a PK’s parents. If the issue involved a non-PK student, would you report it to that student’s parents? If not, then ask yourself if it really needs to be reported. Youth group has the potential feel like an unsafe place if small problems are made into bigger issues and subsequently reported to parents.

The main reason why I’m including this point is because I experienced this in high school, to an unnecessary level. It got to the point that leaders were being unkind to me, I would defend myself, and then my parents were told that I was acting out and I would get in trouble. I share this point with the purpose of encouraging you to weigh what is truly happening in the group, and what needs to be passed on to parents.

Also, please make sure you give PKs the forum to explain what happened–they need to have the space and ability to speak up and share their side of the story. Not having the ability to tell what I experienced made me feel like I had no voice in the accusations being made about me.

8. Don’t assume PKs are above sinning or making mistakes. You may think to yourself, I would never do that, I know everyone’s a sinner. But your words can indicate otherwise. Please don’t tell a PK things like, “I expected more of you” or “I can’t believe you did that.” Don’t set an invisible, unspoken bar that a fallen human being cannot reach. Don’t expect a PK–or any student for that matter–to always make the best decisions, respond appropriately, or behave perfectly. Even the “best” PKs make mistakes, trust me.

Remember to respond in love, and if you do expect more from a PK, find helpful, positive ways to encourage growth. Again, not because of who their parents are, but because of what you see in them as a person. It is worth the time and investment it will take to make a lasting, godly impact on the life of a pastor’s kid.