A couple of years ago, I worked in as a youth pastor in a church. I was very young and a little "green" about ministry, and I had no clue into what I was getting involved. Most of the teens in my ministry came from divorced or dysfunctional home lives. Most of them had little to no relationship with their fathers. Many of them had a negative relationship with their mothers. In fact, some of the teens in my ministry lived with their grandparents because their own parents had neglected or abandoned them. These young people were filled with angst, hate and, most revealing, a huge void.
I worked in the ministry for three months before I was accepted by the teens. Their hearts were hard, cruel, and proud. They locked their emotions away to a place I felt I could not reach. There were a lot of nights I went home discouraged. I felt as though I was making no impact in any of the teens' lives. There were so many needs that each person had, and I felt I was not equipped to meet any of them. Soon thereafter, I began to break through their barriers. I actually do not know to this day what it was that changed their hearts toward me. The teens began trusting me and confiding in me with some of the problems in their lives.
My ministry there was only temporary. I was there for a little more than nine months. A few days before my time was finished, I was chatting with one of my friends, a teacher in a local high school. She told me of an assignment she had given to her students. I was really intrigued because some of the teens in my ministry were also in her class. She had instructed her students to write an essay about their heroes. I was shocked and humbled to find out that one of the students, a girl in my youth group, had written an essay about me.
The need for youth ministry is far more extreme than I have ever thought. Through my experience, I have noticed that teens today have a lot of doubt in God and little respect for their parents. The Barna Research Group recently stated that eighty-five to ninety percent of those who will become Christians would do it before they turn age eighteen. If they don't respond to the Gospel by the time that they are twenty years old, there's a one in ten chance they never will. The truth is most teens today do not see the point of the Gospel.
I once read an article that said the average amount of time a youth pastor stays at one church is 18 months. The truth is that youth ministry is always changing so much that it is difficult for most youth pastors to find their niche in their churches. Unlike a senior pastor, a youth pastor's congregation is always changing. Every four years or so, a new group of students cycle into the youth group. This can become a very discouraging factor of youth ministry. Youth ministry is always revolving. And, as I have seen in the church at which I worked, teens now want and need so much more from their youth pastors than ever. Youth ministry is a pressure-packed job.
So what is this all about? Youth pastors have very little time to make a huge impact upon students' lives. Adolescence is a time where the student grows to know and like or dislike himself or herself. They become more aware of who they are. This is in many ways the most vulnerable time of their lives. The impact made by anyone older can affect a teen very much. Too many times, a neglecting or abusive parent leaves that impact. Therefore, the need for a positive impact by a youth pastor has become essential. Youth pastors need to be careful to validate their teenagers.
St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted: "Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words." That must be the call and passion to youth pastors across the nation. We must be willing and ready to preach the Gospel to the hurting teenagers of our society. We must nurture and love them. We must validate them. We must share with them the message of Christ and the true healing it can bring.
Here are some tips I have learned through youth ministry that will help us leave a proper impact on our teens:
Youth ministry could be summed up in one phrase: Making an impact. Focus your ministry so that you create a place where teens can come to you with their problems. Encourage them. Validate them. Love them. In that, the Gospel will fall on good soil.
The need for youth ministry is far more extreme than I have ever thought. Through my experience, I have noticed that teens today have a lot of doubt in God and little respect for their parents. The need for a positive impact by a youth pastor has become essential.