Blogging In Youth Ministry

The other week I came across a youth ministry site highlighting their top five youth ministry blogs. As I read through the list I noticed 80% of those mentioned were actually youth ministry sites who provide a blog with a range of contributors. This is slightly different to a personal blog, whereby the individual youth pastor might write their own content on their own site. Unfortunately, I can’t link you to the list because it seems the post was taken down.

Nevertheless, with four of the five blogs coming from large youth ministry sites I was reminded of this article by Tim Challies earlier in the year. While writing about the current state of Christian blogging he highlighted the demise of personal blogs in favour of edited articles through large ministry organisation websites. It seems the same goes for youth ministry as it does for the wider church.

Blogging In Youth Ministry

Over the past few years I’ve noticed more and more personal youth ministry blogs drop in content. Instead, authors become part of a larger ministry platform and provide content for them at the expense of their own blog. Evidently, the youth ministry blogging sector isn’t as large as the general church. However, it is telling that there are few who continue to regularly produce blog posts in youth ministry through their own blog.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I enjoy writing for the larger ministry sites too. I have had some writing goals in recent years which have included being published on these ministry sites (You can even read what I’ve had published on those sites here). At the same time, I’ve been conscious to continue to write regularly for my own audience; seeking to work at the craft of writing and reflect on ministry to youth and young adults. There is something about putting my own thoughts down in my own space. As I curate my own content I improve my writing and communication, and gain clarity on my own thoughts and thinking.

There are some great organisations creating some terrific content in written, verbal, and visual form for those of us in youth ministry. The production of high quality curriculum, podcasts, articles, and other resources is worth using and adapting. These are worth contributing to as well. However, there is currently a significant lack of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners giving their own thoughts and reflections in their own space. As I look through my youth ministry blog feed I see 25 different blogs on the list, five of them are personal blogs actively writing about youth ministry. That’s not many; and it has decreased in the last few years.

As I’ve thought more about this recently it is worth naming some other observations I believe have made an impact in this area. At the end of the day I’d love to see more youth pastors and practitioners writing about their reflections on youth ministry. This would help all of us as we seek to be better in our roles, and encourage us to keep going. But for what it’s worth, here are a few more thoughts about why there may be a distinct lack of bloggers in the youth ministry space.

First, it is a niche area of ministry.

Youth and young adult ministry is niche. There aren’t too many who stay in a role long-term in this area of ministry. If they do they may not feel like they need to share their expertise through a blog.

Second, youth ministry brings with it young pastors with little experience to share.

I don’t think this is a reason not to blog. But, I realise that many youth pastors are young themselves and young in terms of experience. This raises the question of what they should share in a blog. However, I often feel the same, even with nearly 20 years experience. There are observations and reflections I find helpful from people of all ages and experiences. Some may be things I’ve heard before, but they are given a new perspective or voice. There are other things I may simply need reminding of. Whatever the case, if you’ve got a writing bone in your body and in youth ministry then come and join the small band of bloggers doing the same.

Third, there is a higher rate of consumption through visual media than through written media.

As the years have gone by so has the increase in the use of YouTube and Insta as some of the main ways content is delivered. The written word, and spending time to think and clarify thought through the written word, has been overtaken by other means of distribution. In the age group of our ministry, and even in the age group of fresh youth pastors, videos and podcasts are more and more important. I do wonder whether this has had an impact on youth ministry bloggers.

Fourth, in the age of platform people seek platform.

There is the very real temptation to always search out a larger audience. We are in the age of likes, comments, and shares. Those who seek to produce content hope their work will be distributed far and wide. But it seems the search for platform has become normal. So, if we want our message to be read by the most amount of people possible then it makes sense to write for large ministry sites rather than a personal blog viewed a few times per week. It would be of no surprise if the decrease in personal blogging, in youth ministry or throughout the church, is because there is a sinful search for platform.

I want to encourage those involved in youth ministry to start writing. It may not be a particular desire you have right now but I’d ask to you pick up a pen (or keyboard) and write your reflections about youth ministry as you work in it.

I started my blogging adventure four years into paid ministry. That was 2009. It’s coming up 10 years since I posted my first blog. Since then I’ve written some terrible stuff. But in recent time I’ve been encouraged to continue to write, and hopefully become more thoughtful, articulate, and clear on my reflections in youth ministry.

You can do that too. 

Writing, not only the published pieces on a blog but also those words in a journal and notebook, have all contributed to thoughtful engagement in youth ministry. Some believe youth ministry is a pretty thoughtless exercise – dodgeball and abstinence training as some have said – but they don’t know what they’re talking about. As you continue to do the work, pray, stay, and love others I’m sure you will find plenty to reflect on, much of it worth sharing with the rest of us. I’d encourage you to do just that.

5 Learnings From Being ‘Acting Senior Pastor’

Earlier in the year my Senior Pastor went on paternity leave for three weeks.

I was technically ‘Acting Senior Pastor’ during that time. There were extra responsibilities. This is what I learned.

5 Learnings From Being 'Acting Senior Pastor'

1. The amount and variety of decisions required to be made is enormous.

This is the main difference between what my role is normally and what I stepped up to.

It took me nearly two weeks to realise the main difference in roles was that of decision-making.

Each day there were new queries, new decisions to make, new things to have conversations about and then make follow up decisions to enable progress. Upon reflection, I realised that the decision-making required is at a new level, a level you just don’t get at the associate pastor level.

At first I was tempted to put this down to not being used to making these decisions, but after further reflection I don’t think it’s just that. I need to make many decisions in the associate role, some I’ve been used to making for many years. But in the senior role there are a greater variety and range of questions asked of you, leading to a greater variety and range of decisions required.

2. The regular preaching is a joy and privilege.

I expected to be weighed down because of the extra preaching load. Rather than preach once a month or so I had to preach five out of six weeks.

Maybe it was the series we covered, an expositional series on the book of Ruth, but I was enthusiastic and excited about teaching and preaching each week. It was great to prepare for it as a series and to then present the material through the preached Word each week.

3. The one-on-ones became more reactive than active.

In reality the extra load did mean there were some things I didn’t do that I normally would’ve. One of those things is actively searching out young adults and others for one-on-one catch-ups during the week. Instead of being active is sourcing these meetups those I did have were usually reactive. That is, people would call and want to meet, or people popped by the church office and sat in with me for a while. Both are important of course, but I do prefer being active rather than reactive.

4. The phone becomes more important than ever.

The invention of the phone has got to be the greatest thing in the ministry kit bag. I was on the phone a lot more, particularly through phone calls, than I usually am. Part of this is the greater number of people who want to talk to me, or share something, or who I needed to follow up. But, the phone became a great resource for me to have pastoral conversations and show care to those in the congregation.

5. The true day off, mentally and physically, is nearly impossible.

I am usually pretty good at switching off and making sure I’m not available. But, I also find myself thinking about youth ministry a lot because I am passionate about it. I like to reflect, write, and think through it.

In the senior position I found myself thinking about the church, its people, and the ministry more often than I would normally. People didn’t know when my days off were and so I would get calls on every day of the week. This led me to then take the call or return the call on the same day because of the context I am in. And so, a full day off of nothing was something that became harder to implement, even though my intentions were to do so.

There’s a lesson in self-care here somewhere.

Being Pastor To A Pastor’s Kid

I’m a Pastor’s kid.

I’ve also been the Youth Pastor to the Senior Pastor’s kids.

It’s a weird situation.

I recently wrote about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship. Off the back of this a mate of mine suggested I write more specifically about dealing with a dynamic many Youth Pastors face – You’re the Youth Pastor of the Senior Pastor’s kids.

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On one hand you want to to lead the youth ministry in a way that you believe is appropriate. A way that is contextual to young people while also coming under the vision, mission and values of your church. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem.

But on the other hand, the Senior Pastor, the one you as Youth Pastor report to, has children in the youth ministry. And while they trust you and your leadership; they have an added desire to see their children come to faith under your ministry. This is not to say their children are any more important than another parent’s child, not at all. It just happens to be that your ‘direct manager’ is also a parent.

It becomes an interesting dance.

And so, it’s worth thinking through this particular topic from four perspectives.

First, the Senior Pastor perspective.

Their desire is for their children to come to know and follow Jesus. The Pastor, with their spouse, has sensed a call to the ministry. They have invested time, money, and energy into the local church. They continue to teach and counsel the members of the congregation. But, their children are special to them. They are their children! They love them, want the best for them, and over the years have been teaching them the ways of the Lord in the family context.

Like any other parent you deal with as a Youth Pastor the Senior Pastor and their spouse is no different. They have a strong desire in seeing their child come to faith in Jesus, raised well in the context of their local church, included in the church family in a way that is meaningful, and have them grow in faith.

Second, the local church perspective.

To the congregation, the children of the Senior Pastor reflect their Pastor. Depending on the context this could be a small thing or it could be quite a big thing. Either way, there is some form of reflection.

For some reason most churches believe they own the children of the Pastor and consider them one of their own. They have unsaid and unintentional expectations on how the Senior Pastor’s kids are to behave, what they should be doing, what they believe, and how much biblical knowledge they should have. Whether it is during a church service or while they’re at youth group, the church is watching them.

The church loves these children though. They give them extra servings at church lunches, a gift at Christmas, or something special for their birthday. This doesn’t come to every child in the congregation, some things are specifically for the Pastor’s kid.

In one’s most skeptical moments there is the thought that this special attention given to the Pastor’s children is solely because their parent is the key leader of the church. Most of the time this is out of love and care and concern. But, at other times this could be a way for certain members to get back at their Pastor, an attempt to bring some form of turmoil to the Pastor’s family or ministry. This is not to say that the small minority causing these issues are prevalent in every church. It’s something to be aware of.

There are expectations coming from the congregation regarding the Pastor and his family. They are often unsaid. But at the end of the day it will cause grief, not just as a parent, if the Pastor’s kid goes off the rails. It will cause the Pastor to wonder whether they are worthy of the position they are in, and this may even be voiced by some in the congregation.

Depending on what season of life the child is in will depend on how the church reacts to certain actions, beliefs and behaviours of said child. Considering we’re talking about those youth ministry years you can imagine the things going on here.

Third, the Youth Pastor perspective.

The Youth Pastor is in an interesting position. They are seeking to disciple the Senior Pastor’s children. They don’t believe they should be doing anything different for this child despite the parent being their boss. But, this is a fine balance, as they want the best for this kid, like all the others in the youth ministry.

The Youth Pastor is employed by the church and sits under the Senior Pastor. At times, whether in a Pastoral Team meeting or at a church event, the Senior Pastor will have two hats – that of parent and that of Pastor. To know which is on at which time could lead to confusion and misunderstanding if not careful.

It is also worth pointing out that the Youth Pastor may be lulled into unhealthy thinking; believing that if the Senior Pastor’s child is doing alright then they might have an ease of pressure from their superior.

At the end of the day it is worth having some clear guidelines about how to approach this. Some of the following suggestions might be helpful:

  1. Have a conversation with the Senior Pastor about dealing with their children. Just open up the conversation and see what comes of it. Often it is in having the conversation that a greater understanding of the issue can be seen. There needs to be awareness from both the Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor that this topic can be a minefield and lead to conflict.
  2. Suggest that the Senior Pastor isn’t the parent that brings parenting questions to the Youth Pastor. Have a clear guideline that means the spouse of the Senior Pastor raises issues or concerns to the Youth Pastor.
  3. Work out boundaries on how much or how little to share about the Pastor’s kid. Often Youth Pastors will know stuff about the child that the Senior Pastor won’t even know.
  4. Have an advocate from outside the church come and speak to the Senior Pastor on your behalf or with you. This could be a denominational leader or simply another Pastor who you trust will mediate fairly.

Fourth, the Pastor’s kid perspective.

It’s not often we end up thinking how things might look from the Pastor’s kid perspective. As a Youth Pastor we obviously want to be aware of their needs, and the challenges they are facing in any particular season. But, who really thinks about the perspective of the Pastor’s kid? Here’s a little of what they’re thinking while they traverse church life as they go through their teen years.

  • They are aware that everyone in the church is looking at them; their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.
  • They are aware that their parent is the key leader of the church and that his leadership is something God has ordained.
  • They are aware that they didn’t ask for this role of Pastor’s kid. They had no say in it, it just is.
  • They are aware that their coming to faith or turning from the faith has an impact on their family. Anything from parental disappointment to job loss.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor doesn’t want to show them any more special treatment than they do to others. This means it might actually be harder for them to integrate or feel comfortable in the community.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor is under the leadership of their parent and so can play this off if they were inclined to do so.
  • They are aware that what they say about the Youth Pastor at home might have an impact on the Youth Pastor’s relationship with their parents.
  • They are aware that they are expected to be at youth events and enjoy the youth ministry that their church has.

This can be a thorny issue for Youth Pastor’s. It is worth thinking about, at least at some level.

A terrific resource about Pastor’s kids is Barnabas Piper’s book ‘The Pastor’s Kid’. It would be useful for all Pastors and church members to read. If you’re a Youth Pastor and you haven’t thought too much about the Pastor’s kid then I’d encourage you to read this. I have written a review of the book here.

Beginning As A Youth Pastor: 11 Things I Wished I Knew

I was asked to speak at a gathering with other Youth and Young Adult Pastors a few months ago. This was in a session on ‘Winning In The First 3 Years of Ministry’. I shared 10 points from the perspective of what I wish I had known going in to youth and young adult ministry. Here are those 10 points, plus an extra.

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1. I wish I knew that an active and exciting relationship with Jesus would be so hard to foster.
It’s easy to look at the Youth Pastor when we’re in youth group, or volunteering as a leader, and think they’re really spiritual and full-on for Jesus. If they are then that’s great, but in my experience it is really hard to find a rhythm in order to foster an active and growing relationship with Jesus. Sure, I’ve grown and have made Jesus the centre of my being since I was in high school, but being surrounded by teaching materials, going through Bible College, leading Bible studies, and preaching regularly, aren’t a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines. Make sure you carve out time for Scripture, prayer, reading, music, reflection and solitude.

2. I wish I knew that my relationship with my Senior Pastor was the most important in the church.
I feel like I’ve had great relationships with my Senior Pastors but I’m surprised at how crucial they’ve been for the week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year ministry. They are the closest relationship I have in the church because of my proximity to them and the regularity in which I see them. It is the relationship that keeps me energised and willing to stick around for the long haul. When Youth Pastors leave it is most likely because their relationship with the Senior Pastor has broken down. I’ve seen it, over and over again. I don’t want it to be me.

3. I wish I knew that the health of the youth ministry is only as healthy as the church.
Youth and young adult ministry is not happening within a vacuum, it is set in the context of the wider church. When you are sick the whole body is sick, not simply one particular part. So it is with youth and young adult ministry. In my first year as a paid Youth Pastor there was significant disharmony in my church that saw a number of significant and influential people leave. This had a trickle down effect. The evening service went from averaging 60-70 people each week to 20-30. The loss of young adults, the loss of youth leaders, the loss of high school students. It just went bang. This highlights the importance of making sure we are aware of what is going on in the wider church. Getting to know people across all ages and stages is important. An understanding of the history of the church is also critical when thinking through the church’s health.

4. I wish I knew that there would be friends for the road and friends for the journey.
Some friends stick around. They stick with you through thick and thin, when you move church, and are generally lifelong friends. These are friends for the road of life. Other people will simply be friends for the journey. They’ll be with you for the time you’re at their church or in their life. But, when you move they won’t continue to catch up with you or check in with you. It’s taken time for me to realise this, more so in the last 12 months. Friends and colleagues that I thought would continue to have an interest in my life, as I do theirs, don’t. It’s important to gather around you 3-4 friends who’ll be with you for the road, ministry or not.

5. I wish I knew that the grass was not greener in another church, in another ministry role, or in another para-church organisation.
It’s easy to let your mind drift to the church down the road and begin to think of how good it must be there. It’s not. It’s just not. They are having the same issues as you. They are having the same struggles. They are having the same problems. The same goes with going into a different ministry role or a role at a para-church organisation. The grass isn’t greener. It’s work. It’s hard.

6. I wish I knew that what I have done in the past doesn’t really mean much to others.
I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life. There are of course some stupid things I’ve done, but generally, I’m pretty proud of some of the things I’ve achieved in life – relationships, study, work, ministry. Guess what? No one cares. Except perhaps for that job interview or the search committee coming up. Other than that, no one cares. I mean, most people have a decent sized ego and so we’d like to think that our achievements matter. X number of years at this church, volunteer years put in at that other church, the secular work we’ve done in the past, the degrees we’ve studied for, the service opportunities we’ve been involved in, et cetera. et cetera. You know, it all builds us up to think that we’ve got some awesome job experience to be an awesome pastor, even before we walk into the role. Nup. That parent of the 14-year-old kid who is annoying each Friday night doesn’t care, they just want to know if you can look after their kid for a couple of hours while they go on a date with their spouse. That deacon doesn’t really care either, they just want to let you know that you can’t park your car at the front of the church because that’s reserved for more significant members of your church.

O how humbling ministry is.

7. I wish I knew that the sin that so easily entangles will entangle you with more force in ministry.
Yep, those things we fear, those habits we slipped into years ago, those things we listen to and watch, those temptations to click. These things will continue. The devil will attempt to strike, and strike with more and more force. I figured it would be easier to let go of those things because of the important and significant work I would be doing in the life of the church. How little did I know! You’ve had a porn habit, watch the devil seek to strike you there. You’re overly insecure, watch the devil play with you. You’re too conscious of your appearance or what people think of you, bang. You’re seeking intimacy and relationships, boom. Sin doesn’t stop. It carries on. And it’s usually coming at you with a force you’ve never seen before.

8. I wish I knew the extent of which church politics would take up headspace and suck my emotional energy. 
There is a lot to be said about getting to know your wider church and being involved in the high level discussions and conversations at your church. Yet, it is also the place where church politics is most clearly seen and can just suck you dry if you let it. This is closely connected to point 3 about church health, but it is surprising at how deeply it can affect us. Some, and perhaps all of it, may not be about the ministries we are involved in. It might be to do with the budget, or with the way the flowers are arranged on Sunday mornings, or how the coffee and tea is served at morning tea. It might have nothing to do with your ministry at all, yet something small and insignificant can get us down and consume the rest of the day if we let it.

9. I wish I knew that people don’t need me to tell them what to do, they need the grace of God applied.
I remember the first few months of going to church after I’d finished up on staff at a previous church. I took the opportunity to visit various churches and also went back to our home church. What I distinctly remember was that every time I walked out I felt like I had more burdens than when I arrived. I felt like I’d been given a good sermon and good teaching, but when it came to application I’d be lumped with more and more things to do. My week was already busy. I’m house-hunting, I’m waiting for a newborn to arrive, I’m feeling overwhelmed with my own sense of sinfulness, I’m trying to study hard, I’m looking for a new job. I don’t need application that leaves me feeling like I’ve got to do more in order to get my life back on track. No. What I need is grace. I need the grace of God shown to me. I need the grace of God to make me realise that he is the one my burdens are to go to. All those significant things in life will be before him, given to him, and dealt with by him. I would encourage you to give people grace – kid, parent, young adult, oldie, pastor, ministry volunteer, anyone. When you’re teaching, give them grace. Apply grace.

10. I wish I knew how to work better.
I had been in the health and fitness industry for a couple of years before I moved into ministry. A few more years and I took up my first position in a church. I am an organised and systematic person naturally, but it still took me a number of years to work out a decent workflow system. Things like getting your emails down to zero, planning your calendar, working out how long things would take, making to-do-lists, dealing with budgets, how to think through a project like a camp or one-off event. The non-people work side of stuff. What is that? Administration. For this I’d recommend Tim Challies’ “Do More Better“, which only came out a little while ago. It covers what you’d need. And I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much administration you find yourself doing.

***While I shared the above there was a glaring omission from the list, one which every Youth Pastor needs to know.***

11. I wish I knew it was such a privilege
Not until I left my first church did I realise how much of a privilege it is to be such an influence in the lives of young people and students. The trust, affection, openness, and vulnerability people have toward you is simply amazing at times. The position you have and the places you find yourself in as you disciple young people is phenomenal. While it can be long, frustrating, and messy work there is the privilege of guiding people in life decisions, applying the Gospel to people’s lives, and celebrating their growth as people and disciples.

What a wonderful work it is.