27 Jun, 2015 Chapter 9
GUARDING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CHURCH
Relationship with one’s wider Church is a particular challenge for youth ministries, especially in our current day and age when we are dealing with the most significant generation gap in all of known history.
I have met personally with a good number of Youth and Young Adults Pastors both to share on leadership matters as well as for general friendship. A great many Youth and Young Adults Pastors experience tension with their wider Church leadership, or Senior Pastors. Many younger leaders get hurt by their experiences. There are many possible reasons for these struggles. For example, (a) the heart of every human has pride in it, so disagreements happen and tensions continue where they could otherwise be resolved or released.
Sustaining a healthy relationship between a youth ministry and its wider Church is, even though many do not really perceive it, increasingly a cross-cultural negotiation!
(b) many Churches really do have significant weaknesses in their management systems, and in the way they guide and care for their staff, so in some Churches, a reasonable number of the staff are struggling, not just the Youth or Young Adults Pastors. (c) But significantly, and especially for modern youth ministry, there are very real generation gap issues going on, causing tensions. Resolving these is not easy. Youth have always done ‘silly things’ which adults have felt annoyed at, and which have required mediation (or the youth being told off). However, in today’s world, it is not just the age gap that divides, but a culture gap. These two generations are thinking in somewhat different ways. Many adults are what is called ‘modern’, while the youth are more ‘post-modern’. Sustaining a healthy relationship between a youth ministry and its wider Church is, even though many do not really perceive it, increasingly a cross-cultural negotiation!
Thus, in this chapter, there is a section for Youth and Young Adults Pastors, and a section for Senior Pastors.
I have taken great care in this chapter to write in such a way as to not be misunderstood. In particular, with regard to the due respect given to Senior Pastors. However, whilst cautions, some discussion on this does have its place. I hope these words might be a valuable contribution to this ‘discussion’ for some.
Part A: For Youth and Young Adults Pastors – responsibilities to your Churches
To keep the Senior Pastor, and wider Church leadership informed of what we are doing, even when it is not requested, and even if they do not seem to care.
To openly give account of anything that might be of interest or concern to them, volunteering the information if you feel the matter may affect the larger picture, and to do so even if they do not seem to even read what you write.
3. Submit plans:
This applies especially where our plans or directions may affect a larger picture. We should seek the opinion and feedback of our leadership, as we are under their authority. It is again, godly to do this, even if what you share is not responded to, or ever discussed.
4. Speak respectfully:
The saying is ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. In any organisation, under any leadership, faults and weaknesses become more apparent with time. But we all have faults! It is a reflection of maturity that one would guard their words and attitudes, always speaking respectfully of their church and its leadership, irrespective of anything. The unity of the Church is what is potentially at stake when Pastors and leaders are not careful with their words. One does not need to read far in the Bible to get an idea of how important unity is to God.
5. Lead your members to participate actively in some corporate Church events:
The youth and young adult members will, in some ways, reflect the attitude of their immediate leaders. I have seen this negatively demonstrated, as well as positively. We need to be committed and ‘submitted’ to the larger Church we are a part of, discipling our members to hold the same attitudes, and leading them in living these attitudes out.
I have observed many Churches running into problems as youth got older, because the cultures that formed in the youth and adult services were so different.
Side note: The challenge of ‘the youth will do it!’
While reflecting on active involvement with Church events, it is a particular challenge in youth ministry that youth may be overly-taxed (used) by adults to do various chores. The Youth and Young Adults Pastors have an important role to play both as the protector and facilitator of their members’ involvement in such ‘chores’. For example, have you heard these lines? “We need someone to move the chairs, but no problem, the youth will do it!” “We need someone to man the LCD projector, but no problem, the youth will do it!” “We need musicians for this event, as well as to set everything up at this new venue, but no problem, the youth will do it!” “We need someone to arrange games for this event, but no problem, … [fill in the gap] !” The boundary issue is obvious, but it is NOT an easy boundary to clarify, let alone enforce!
I have experienced this challenge in all places I have done youth ministry. The way I have dealt with it is to establish an understanding with the leadership that any time they want to ask a young person to help with something I would like them to go through me. It follows that I have then gone the extra mile to actually facilitate that help. Needless to say, many Pastors, Elders and their wives have not followed this guideline. It has taken confidence for me to talk to them about this every single time. The reasons I have gone this far, however, are the key to understanding the action. Firstly, there has to be a limit as to WHO has authority to tell youth what to do. In a large Church, all the youth would simply leave if at least some boundaries didn’t exist (with regard to limitations on how many ‘chores’ they have to do). So, whatever the boundary is, it is needed. Secondly, sometimes an older person seeks to ‘use’ a youth simply because they are too lazy to do it themselves. If a few chairs need moving they could often do it themselves, or there might be three other adults sitting nearby who could help. Asking that they talk to me thus brought a level of accountability to their ‘needs’, causing adult leaders to evaluate whether they really did need to get a youth to help – or whether they were just being lazy. Thirdly, the adults invariably don’t know all the youth, thus it can result that a very small group of youth are continually ‘picked on’ by adults because they were well known, while the greater majority of the youth are never asked to help. I have seen ‘picked on’ youth emotionally affected by this, and affecting their longer term faith involvement (which is obviously why I have come to have thoughts on healthy boundaries).
The responsibility here is obvious – you’re the Youth or Young Adults Pastor! You’re responsible for the discipleship and wellbeing of the youth and young adults. To do nothing – if the situation is a bit ‘abusive’ – is negligence in your pastoral responsibilities. Unfortunately the solution requires confidence and grace, as well as a servant heart, to go the extra mile (to help them) in honour of the grace shown you by all the adults who do respect your request that they go through you for help. My goal was to ensuring I did mobilise youth to help out every time it was requested.
So, while we do need to actively support the wider-Church activities, this is not to say there is not a need for boundaries, as with any relationship. However, having a servant heart is a good, and Christ-like, place to start.
6. Establish a culture in sync with the Church:
A sixth responsibility that Youth and Young Adults Pastors have toward their Churches is to establish and guide the ‘cultures’ of their groups so as to protect the wider unity of the Church. In particular, this is about your best enabling of your youth and young adults to one day integrate into your particular Church’s adult congregation.
This is no small challenge!
How to successfully integrate our younger generations into our adult congregations is unquestionably one of the most important issues in this section, in terms of what is relevant to Church life today. This is even more challenging when the youth or young adults groups have enough numbers to function like actual ‘congregations’, with their own weekend service. I have observed many Churches running into problems as youth got older, because the cultures that formed in the youth and adult services were so different. I suggest a solution.
The first matter is the worship style. The second matter is how charismatic (pentecostal) the ministry is, expressed primarily through its manner of worship, prayer, and response at the end of preached messages. There are then further areas that can be considered.
One of the best ways to help Youth or Young Adults Pastors to last is to put greater focus on working with Senior Pastors.
As the ‘servant’ group, I believe it is the responsibility of the Youth and Young Adults Pastor to ‘moderate’ the culture of their congregation so as to enable an easier transition to the wider Church in time to come. The decision to do this is about wisdom. It is about voluntary submission to our authorities (as they usually will not have perspectives or understanding such that they would request these changes). And it is about looking out for the greater benefit of the Church, rather than just the benefit of the particular congregation you lead. Yes – these are difficult thoughts to consider – but real issues as tertiary aged young adults are leaving our Churches in significant numbers. This discussion requires the humility to consider that while ‘moderating’ a younger group’s culture may inhibit its growth in numbers, it might be the right thing to do, for there may exist more true disciples of Jesus a decade later as a result. By keeping the cultures more similar, less of your young adults may leave the Church when they reach that age in just two or three years time.
When young adults leave Churches, many do so only after having persevered, and thus many feel significantly discouraged (noting younger people are more easily discouraged also). Resultantly, a number of them do not successfully settle in other Churches.
At the end of the day, I believe that in most cases, more youth will end up following Jesus through the former choice of servant-leadership than through our bolder but independent leadership.
Not all Churches, of course, struggle with this problem. Some Churches, repeating what was done in many Churches twenty years ago, take the most obvious step and start a more contemporary adult service (which begin as young adult services). However, other Churches do not have the resources or numbers for this, and find themselves in a bind. I believe wisdom speaks, and it speaks a word of caution to us.
In my recent experience, after just two years in the leadership at Bartley Christian Church, I chose to moderate a few areas, the most significant being that of the culture of our youth worship expressions. The youth ministry was hitting a real momentum at that time, but at the same time developing its own circle of contemporary songs, becoming more charismatic, and was already growing differently from the wider Church in the way it did many things. I just projected what I saw happening a few years forward and realised that, because of the cumulative differences, and although the youth ministry might do well by staying on the path it was on, the Church would be in danger of losing a good number of these young adults beyond that point. I had eight years in ministry before moving to Singapore, and had seen this same thing happen in New Zealand. I felt it would be irresponsible of me as the leader to not intervene. So I maintained the development of certain areas that I felt were important, but moderated other areas, with a view to maintaining the great unity of the Church. Firstly, I ‘moderated’ the worship culture in the youth service by establishing a song list that had a greater similarity to the adult congregations song list. I did not request that the volume was turned down – merely that new songs introduced on Sundays became our first choice of new songs. This did ‘tone things down’ a little, but not that much. Positively this helped sustain a greater similarity between our Saturday youth service and Sunday adults services. Consider a youth who was a new believer taking the bold step, one day, to visit the Sunday morning service. The familiarity would help it feel like home.
Secondly, we intentionally encouraged attendance at Sunday services, so as to ‘engrave’ this Sunday attendance by youth as a part of the culture of our group. This way, new believers would often end up visiting an occasional Sunday service with their new found Church friends. This helped prepare them for the future when that adult congregation would became their spiritual ‘home base’ (from about nineteen years old onwards).
One of the greatest challenges of youth ministry is the energy that it takes. This is too often recognised, but too rarely responded to.
In our case, it was a blessing that our Church’s adult worship ministry became more contemporary within the next few years, this being, in part, affected by some of our youth musicians and worship leaders who started serving in the Sunday services. You could say that some of our culture ‘moved up into theirs’, and it helped the Church to have a more contemporary feel in the main services. But other factors not related to us were also a part of the positive developments (I.e., I’m not claiming credit – the Worship Pastor worked with his teams).
The ways of wisdom can be both hard to discern and hard to stomach sometimes – especially when ‘moderating’ things can cost us potential growth. But I leave this as a thought for you to ponder. I believe our youth ministry could have grown bigger in numbers, had we not moderated. But I also believe we would have seen more of our tertiary young adults leave as a result. The cultures between these groups is different. These are rocky waters to negotiate.
Instead of having younger staff deliberately overly busied, because of their youthful energies, could they not be discipled in time management, and in setting boundaries, looking to a longer view of things.
There are, of course, other obvious action steps that can help a youth or young adults congregation feel a part of a wider Church. Pastors can teach common values that the Church holds. All congregations can unite together, serving in community events and ministries. Pastors can speak in each others congregations, so members feel they have some relationship with all the leaders in the Church (rather than just their Youth Pastor or Young Adults Pastor).
The Benefits of Youth and Young Adults Pastors fulfilling these responsibilities
1. We have the free use of the Church’s facilities and resources which our members cannot yet support
2. We have a spiritual covering for blessing and protection
3. Our youth and tertiary young adults will in future integrate more healthily into wider life of the Church
4. We honour God!
Part B: For Senior Pastors – responsibilities to your Youth and Young Adults Pastors
In this small section I’d like to speak to the Senior Pastors. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, I speak with caution here, yet hoping to make a positive contribution to a conversation. (If you are a Youth or Young Adults Pastor you may wish to skip this section and resume reading at the start of the next chapter).
It all comes back to dollars and cents - and the Senior Pastor has at least some influence in that.
As every Church’s dynamics are different, only some of what I have written may apply to you.
I once had the privilege of interviewing some denominational heads whose roles were specifically the care of Pastors, including those who specialised in the care of Youth Pastors (others cared for Pastors, and others for Missionaries). I was intrigued to discover that they had found that one of the best ways to help Youth or Young Adults Pastors to last was to put their greater focus on working with the Senior Pastors. They would intentionally match personality types together (between the Senior Pastor and Youth or Young Adults Pastor), and this helped longevity. Then they intentionally worked with the Senior Pastors to help them consider how they could best encourage and support their Youth Pastor given, (a) his or her particular personality type, (b) love languages, and (c) working style and strengths. Senior Pastors were encouraged and aided in intentionally deploying their Pastors into areas of strength. It made a difference to their longevity! Maybe, just as in the market place, work environment is one of the most significant factors in the longevity of staff. You, as the Senior Pastor, establish the work environment!
The Youth Pastor often thinks their job is to grow the youth ministry, but in a world where we now have the most significant generation gap that has probably ever existed, that may not be entirely true. An important question is 'At what cost?'
(1) Youth Pastors are encouraged when you give them time
A Youth or Young Adults Pastor’s relationship with their Senior Pastor plays a role in their longevity in the ministry. Youth Pastors are typically younger, but their ministries are also largely ‘invisible’ to the members and leadership of the Church, as most of what they do is done ‘solo’ and out of the direct sight of the the adults. Giving your Youth Pastor your time will communicate care and concern. It will also open communication lines, helping to avoid conflicts and to keep the congregations aligned.
This is a new challenge that previous generations of Senior Pastors have not had to deal with at quite the same intensity, for this current generation gap is not just about age - it's about culture!
(2) Youth Pastors need a gentle hand
Because Youth and Young Adults Pastors are typically younger in age, it takes more courage for them to bring up issues they feel concerned about. While many seem head-strong, sometimes the zeal is covering over real insecurity. Go gentle on them, and they are more likely to ‘blossom’. In truth, many Youth and Young Adults Pastors feel quite overwhelmed by their responsibilities. They accept their jobs because of their zeal, but many are, in reality, pastoring congregations of eighty or one hundred or two hundred, and are only twenty five or thirty years old. They face leadership issues, pastoral problems, and the pressure of needing to ‘deliver the goods’ in weekly services, small groups, leaders training’s and at events. It’s a lot to carry when so young. They are often craving encouragement and affirmation!
(3) Older Youth Pastors can become frustrated with their limitations
In particular in Asia, key leadership roles and responsibilities are given to those who are older. There are sometimes few opportunities for experienced leaders in their mid thirties, or beyond. Many Pastors only enter the ministry in their thirties or fourties. But consider the Youth Pastor who at thirty five years of age has fifteen years of full time experience behind him (or her). In an over-forties controlled world, seeing the challenges, knowing the solutions, but being unable to help because your still ‘too young’ can be difficult.
... a key to finding good Youth Pastors is to create the kind on environment that potential Youth Pastors would want to be in.
Forty years ago the leaders of many nations were only in their thirties. Today, senior leadership roles in Churches are largely reserved for those significantly older.
I simply note this as an observation of my time in Asia. I observed a number of very good younger spiritual leaders feeling ‘choked’ in their positions, and without any space being given for them to stretch their wings.
Empathy with the possible quiet frustration of these faithful Youth Pastors and Young Adults Pastors is a good place to start. Their work is fast paced, and cross cultural – they work across a generation gap that becomes bigger with every year older they become.
Considering how to release these leaders to their ‘next level’ is a worthy consideration. Most can only handle about five, or so, years of youth ministry before they feel ready for a change (it is fast paced). Those who last longer are experienced leaders – even though still comparatively young. If their energies can somehow be kept in Christian ministry we will all benefit. It is a shame to see them more off to the market place as there is no room for them in the Church.
As a simple comparison, it has been estimated that, in Australia, there are ten thousand ex Pastors, Missionaries and their Spouses. The average Pastor is possibly only lasting six to ten years in any case. Our Youth and Young Adults Pastors are some of our best in the Church, having developed a ‘speciality’ in the nuances of spiritual leadership in their ‘youth’.
I recall the comments of one senior Christian leader in Singapore, observing how very few paraChurch staff seemed committed for the long haul these days, in comparison to how things were a generation ago. Indeed there have been significant changes in the way younger people think. It is a challenge we can all reflect upon. Senior Pastors can seek God together with their younger Pastors for their future life directions.
(4) Your Youth and Young Adult Pastors may need your protection from overwork
One of the greatest challenges of youth ministry is the energy that it takes. This is too often recognised, but too rarely responded to. Youth Pastors are likely the busiest people in their Churches. Their ministries are often faster paced than the wider Churches they are a part of, which are often several times their size. In addition to all of this, they also may still have to attend adult congregation Church services, prayer meetings, and leadership meetings – causing duplicate attendances for them, week after week.
It’s not sustainable!
Senior Pastors have the opportunity to protect and disciple their younger Pastors.
Sometimes younger staff are viewed as an opportunity to get things done. Their youthful energy could be put to good use. However, when this is the attitude, it is sadly often observed that those same new staff are feeling a little burnt out five years later, and also feeling the Church is not a ‘safe’ environment in which to continue to work! The Senior Pastors alone can curb the tide in this.
Instead of having younger staff deliberately overly busied, because of their youthful energies, could they not be discipled in time management, and in setting boundaries, looking to a longer view of things? Our Churches could be more healthy if this were the case. If a great many drop out of ministry due to weariness, is not the correct response to disciple and help those in ministry to set boundaries for necessary self care?If discipled in the right heart attitudes and skills, instead of being a five year ‘flash of light’, they could be shaped to become a fifty year bright ‘glow’ in God’s Church!
Busied people will not become truly spiritual people.
Only the Senior Pastor can moderate, and change, the culture of the Churches in these things.
Most young Pastors to >not yet have the maturity or boundaries to establish a pace they will be able to sustain! And most older Pastors do not also. Younger Pastors need their Senior Pastors protection, encouragement, and sometimes help.
(5) Your Youth and Young Adults Pastors need your resourcing support
Senior Pastors are able to influence their Churches budgets. They are, in many cases, the ‘gate keepers’ of the Church budget, as the vision they lead the Church into will be significant in determining where the money goes.
The areas a Church invests in will, most often, be the areas it will reap rewards in.
If a significant part of the Churches staffing budget is given to the under thirties (such as intentionally the case a Church I recently visited with an average age in the late forties), then the Church will develop a new generation of members. I am biased, but note that this is an important thing.
Many Churches have now learnt the importance of staffing their youth ministries. (For example, just think about how many paid Youth Pastors there were twenty years ago). I believe there are new lessons to now be learnt – and significantly so in the area of tertiary aged young adults ministry. The tertiary young adults years are the current key demographic for attrition for many of our Churches. We could benefit from making intentional responses to this, and obviously this might well include staffing.
Following staffing, I believe there is some philosophical, or strategic, learning that needs to take place, considering how to truly disciple this current ‘breed’ of young adults in a manner that is somehow ‘continuous’ with what has happened in many youth ministries. The goal here is to present mature disciples in their mid twenties, but also to create suitable cultural bridges than can enable these young adults to feel at home in the adult congregations of the Churches they have come from. Just as there was a learning curve in the journey toward the re-contextualisation of youth ministries, I believe the same learning journey needs embarking in many of our Churches in the way we conduct our young adults ministries. This will be discussed more in the Young Adults chapter of this book which I invite you, the Senior Pastor, to also read.
Those who recognise and respond to the needs will likely reap the rewards.
But it all comes back to dollars and cents – and the Senior Pastor has at least some influence in that.
(6) Guide the culture of your youth and young adults ministries with their Pastors
Some Churches may not be losing many of the young adults. If this is the case, this point may not be relevant to your context. But for others, this is a recognised issue.
In these cases I would encourage Senior Pastors to talk openly with their Youth and Young Adults Pastors on the type of ‘culture’ they develop in their ministries. This is often a contributing factor to attrition (from my observation of Singapore Churches). While adult congregations can also adapt their methods and styles over time to become more contemporary and relevant to younger generations, the younger congregations are the ones who need the primary attitude of servant-hood in this.
As mentioned in point 6 for Youth and Young Adults Pastors, the key issues are probably how charismatic a group is, the music style used in worship, and then maybe discussion of smaller, more sundry matters that will help maintain inter-generational unity, such as combined services, youth participation in key corporate events, youth involvement in other areas of Church (but also what reasonable limitations on that might be).
As a note, I suggest tertiary young adults involvement in Church-wide corporate events is more realistic than youth involvement. This is because youth ministries often really do need to keep their key leaders to sustain their ministries, as finding leaders for a youth ministry is so difficult. As discussed elsewhere, tertiary age is where a potential abundance of leadership arises, as the development of leadership gifts seem to come as a part of their natural sociological development at this age.
Losing a generation of young people from a Church is a costly mistake. I say ‘mistake’, because I believe it can be largely avoided, and especially if it has already been happening, in which case lessons could be investigated and learnt from. The Youth Pastor often thinks their job is to grow the youth ministry, but in a world where we now have the most significant generation gap that has probably ever existed, that may not be entirely true. An important question is, ‘At what cost?’
The Senior Pastor, however, also has some things to consider. If an adult congregation’s leadership style is geared toward meeting the needs of, for example, those over forty, this very leadership style may become an invisible factor in the attrition of many young adults. This is a new challenge that previous generations of Senior Pastors have not had to deal with at quite the same intensity, for this current generation gap is not just about age – it is about culture! Many may simply feel their needs are not being met. Unfortunately for us, there are other Churches out there who understand this, and whose entire Churches are geared around the way those in their twenties and thirties think, rather than those in their forties and fifties. I suspect this could spur some interesting conversation in a number of Churches – but, I pray the conversation is conducted with humility. There will not always be easy solutions, but it is worth considering!
The culture of the groups, and strategic planning on how the transitions will work, are important considerations. I suggest intentionally discussing this with your Youth and Young Adults Pastors, and with others.
A note on finding good Youth Pastors (for Senior Pastors):
Finding good Youth Pastors is especially difficult. As a by-comment, finding good Young Adults Pastors is not so difficult, as we shall discuss in the next chapter (a teaser for you for the Young Adults Ministry chapter).
The point I would like to make here is that a key to finding good Youth Pastors is to create the kind of environment that potential Youth Pastors would want to be in. Who would want to be a Youth Pastor when the Youth Pastors they have known have always looked worn out, or strung out? Who would want to be a Youth Pastor when all the ones they have known have eventually left their roles feeling significantly discouraged, and quietly struggling through their hurts and negative attitudes towards their Church and its leadership? Healthy people are attracted to, and stay in, healthy environments.
This is why most Youth Pastors are really quite young in age. I may be overstating this (and laugh with me if you will), but, they take the job of Youth Pastor because they are too young to understand the undefined expectations, potentially overwhelming workload, and lack of realistic boundaries for them to really succeed in any sustainable way in the work.
Now consider, is this actually overstated? For some Churches the answer will be ‘yes’, but for many others it will actually be ‘no’. Youth work is hard work, and because the leaders are young, they do need a lot more support.
When we learn how to better care for our Youth Pastors, we may discover that finding new ones isn’t as difficult as it once was. Some Churches know this already. There are lessons that can be learnt.
In conclusion, for the Senior Pastors…
I hope these thoughts can help healthy dialogue to begin (or continue) on these matters. You Senior Pastors do an amazing, and difficult, job! Thank you! (Note for Senior Pastors: Both chapters 10 and 11 have thoughts that may interest you).
In conclusion, for Youth and Young Adults Pastors…
As a final point relating to what has been discussed above, I encourage you to consider a longer term view of your lives. You will not be in youth and young adults ministry forever, so serve God passionately, and serve Him well where you are.
Singapore is a nation where many of the older leaders are still there because they have been so faithful to the Lord! This longevity is to be viewed with admiration. The obvious spin off is that there are less opportunities for younger leaders below forty to rise into key leadership positions (where this was not the case twenty and thirty years ago). I would remind you that God has a plan for your life. There is a world full of needs, and so there is no lack of opportunity. It is a case of where God wants you to learn, and in some seasons, our own character growth is His greater priority than our ministry advancement. As Pastor Rick Warren says, ‘God is more interested in your character than your career!’
Serve God well where you are!
In doing so, you will become what God needs you to be for what He has next for you…
…and a generation of young people will be impacted, bringing fruitfulness beyond your imagination in the decades that are to come!
Something to reflect upon
1. What are your attitudes toward your senior leadership? Are your words or thoughts critical? If so, what is your right response? How can you work on your attitudes, or overcome your frustrations?
2. We cannot control what others do, only what we do ourselves. Review the responsibilities the Youth and Young Adults Pastors have toward their leadership. Which are you fulfilling? Which might you need to give more diligence to?
The Lord will honour those who honour Him. (1 Samuel 2:30)