The Inadequate Youth Pastor

As I stand in the front row of our church, waiting for the song to finish before I get up to preach, my heart is beating faster than usual. My mind is sending up invisible prayers like a professional boxer hitting the speedball. While on the outside I might look calm, inside is nothing of the sort. Nerves are one thing, but it’s actually the intense feelings of inadequacy that come before the preaching begins. Afterward, those feelings return as I stand praying during the final song, simply wanting to hide. Sometimes I acknowledge the feelings and embrace them, other times I am overwhelmed by them.

These feelings of inadequacy are not restricted to the task of preaching. It applies to other areas of church life, including youth ministry and working with young adults. Whether it is meeting with someone one-on-one, leading leaders in planning our youth ministry and its culture, seeking to give wise advice to questions our high schoolers ask, or leading the week Bible study, I often walk away with a strong feeling that I’m inadequate for the role.

The Inadequate YP

Some smart person will tell me that I’m placing more emphasis on myself than on God at this point. That I’m not putting faith in God’s work through his Word, but rather seeking affirmation and positive feeling from my own performance. And while I imagine I am doing this to some extent, who doesn’t want to at least feel like they’re doing somewhat of a decent job at something they are called to? But considering the preparation, the prayer, and the ‘performance’ itself, the intensity of these inadequate feelings just doesn’t match.

It is often said that we put more pressure on ourselves than we do others. And we expect we will be able to do good, high quality work, from the outset. No matter what role we have–youth leader, parent, student, worker–we all have feelings of inadequacy. But no matter how much positive feedback I might receive this week, no matter how much experience I recognise I have, no matter how much study or reading I do, and no matter how much encouragement I see within the ministry itself, I often feel inadequate in what I do.

I suspect I’m not the only one in youth ministry feeling this way.

At this point it would be worth heading toward a positive, uplifting, and assuring verse of Scripture to tell me, and all of us, that we’re not inadequate at all. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m reminded of Moses in Exodus 3-4 as he lays out to God objection after objection on why he should not be the leader of God’s people, confront Pharaoh, and help them leave the bonds of slavery in Egypt. I can completely understand Moses when he says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13).

Evidently my pride and ego get in the way. There is no doubt. And now that I’m in my late-30’s, rather than my early-20’s, a little of the brashness and arrogance has been shaved away. But, those feelings of inadequacy still linger; like the old ladies perfume I was skunked by when receiving an awkward hug at morning tea after church.

Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with these feelings of inadequacy. I can’t say I’ve found helpful answers from others in ministry yet. It seems everyone is battling with the same problem! But then again perhaps all one needs is a good rest and some down time.

Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Included

Over at Rooted Ministry the fifth and final article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. The third post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community. The fourth post highlights our identity in relation to being reconciled to God. And the fifth post is a reminder that we are now included in God’s family.

You can read the whole thing here.

“I am reminded often, when working with teenagers, that there is a tendency in our younger years to withhold mercy toward one another. This, of course, isn’t solely a student problem. This is a humanity problem. But the withholding of mercy toward others, especially school friends and those who we deem “different,” seems particularly evident in teenagers.

In our ministry to students, one aspect of the gospel to emphasise is the fact that the mercy we have received from God through Christ changes our identity to mercy-givers. Following in the example of God, we too are called to offer mercy to others. History’s greatest act of mercy is the mercy offered by Jesus on the cross. And in our lives and the lives of our students, it is he whom we seek to imitate.”

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Reconciled

Over at Rooted Ministry the fourth article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. The third post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community. Today’s post highlights our identity in relation to being reconciled to God.

You can read the whole thing here.

“In youth ministry we call upon our students and their families to recognize this gift of grace God has given us through Jesus. It is great that we can have a fun time, enjoy each other’s company, learn more about God, and find a place to belong as a community. But we also need to put front and center the truth that there is a need to reconcile with God. When we call our students to God, we call them to come and receive all these benefits. The gospel is a gospel of hope that delivers us from separation and alienation and reconciles us with the God of the universe, the lover of our souls. What was broken has now been finally and forever repaired.”

You can read other published pieces here.

 

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Brought Near

Over at Rooted Ministry the third article of a 5-part series I’ve written has been published.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. The second post focusses on the freedom we have because of the cross. And today’s post seeks to show how God has broken down barriers in order for us to be part of his family and community.

You can read the whole thing here.

“But here’s the rub: Because God is with us, and because we are with God, there is no competition. There is no separation. There is no division. There is no apart-ness. No, we are with God and he is with us. We have been drawn near.

While we, and the students we lead, live in this lonely separated world we know there is something greater. Real relationship with others, being loved for who we are, and being accepted on the basis of grace is a call to community. In our churches we want to be known by people who are similarly known by God. And when we have students who are lonely, yearning for someone to simply listen, then we become an integral part in helping them be known. This is why our work is so important; it’s connecting people to God and to one-another. The greatest gift for our students is Jesus, the greatest community we can provide them with is one that shows love, respect, and acceptance in his name.”

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Have Been Set Free

Over at Rooted Ministry the second article of a 5-part series I’m having published this week has gone live.

The essence of the series is identity for the youth pastor, centred on the phrase ‘but now’.

You can read the first post here, which looks at being made right with God. Today’s post focuses on the freedom we have because of the cross. You can read it here.

“As we minister to teenagers, as we parent our children, we often find ourselves drawn back to living pre-Calvary. We are more comfortable operating out of a place of rules, law, and instruction. And while we teach our students and children this freedom message, we often place upon them the same law we find ourselves so drawn to.

Living gospel lives means we speak this teaching and instruction from a new foundation, a foundation of grace and freedom that seeks to highlight this gift God has given through his Son. With gospel living comes rest; performance to achieve for God is turned into being with God. With gospel living comes security; we are held fast by a loving Father, free in the assurance of his promises. With gospel living comes comfort; in times of pain and trial we lean into his sovereign hand in all things, knowing that God is truly in control. With the freedom that comes from the gospel we are able to live lives from a place of joy, gratitude, and thankfulness.”

For today’s full article, go here.

You can read other published pieces here.

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Published: Youth Minister, ‘But Now’ You Are Made Right

Over at Rooted Ministry I have a 5-part series coming out this week, all focussed on the theme of identity for the youth pastor and centred on the phrase ‘but now’. The first of these five have been published today.

“Our identity, as well as our worship and obedience, is found at the cross. Nothing else matters, nothing else suffices. Yet in the chaos of our jobs and calling, how often do we forget this? Like clouds above, slow and silent, we find ourselves drifting from this truth among the busyness, the self-importance, and the variety of youth ministry. We lose ourselves in the thrust and hustle. We seek to serve God and those in our congregations, yet we find ourselves wondering who we are amongst it all.

‘But now’ reveals our true identity to us in a way that feels like we’ve just walked into a glass door. Once we were a people who performed in order to be worthy, now we are a people who achieve through the free grace we receive. These two words set us back on the path to rest and rightness.”

The full post can be found here.

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Published: Theological Reflection In Training For Youth Ministry

It was only a little over a week ago I wrote about the impact my Master of Divinity studies had on my training for youth ministry. I outlined four points about how my theological education has prepared and impacted my role as a youth and young adult pastor. However, there was really a fifth point. And that fifth point became a whole post, recently published on Tim Gough’s Youth Work Hacks as a follow-up piece

In this post I flesh out how the theological education I received has helped in applying theologically reflective practice into the ministry. This means, looking out for where God seems to be moving and asking the question of what He is doing amongst the local believers. Sometimes this may sound foreign to people, particularly in youth ministry, because it’s not taught or explored very often. But, I think it is actually the most important of the five points across the two articles.

“Theological reflection, the idea of being able to reflect on our experiences in life and ministry through the lens of faith, can often go missing in youth ministry. It takes effort to stop, think, and articulate what God might be doing within our own lives, let alone through the ministry we might be involved in. We can find ourselves more focused on ‘doing the program’, or ‘getting the task done’, than taking the time to reflect on the ways God seems to be working in our midst.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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Published: 5 Advantages of Gospel Centred Youth Ministry

It’s very pleasing to have had another post about youth ministry published on The Gospel Coalition.

This time I’m written about what I see as the advantages to a gospel-centred approach in youth ministry. It seems odd this even needs to be said. And using the phrase ‘gospel-centred’ when everyone else uses it beings to lose its meaning. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder to write these five points, and I would like to believe it all holds true.

Hope you enjoy it.

You can find it here.

“I can’t help but reflect on the hundreds of teenagers I’ve been privileged to teach and shepherd through the years. Some have stuck with faith and the church. Others dropped off, never to be seen of again.

Without the gospel and an understanding of God’s guiding sovereign hand in this work, I wouldn’t have survived this long. Thankfully, the growing is God’s and the sustaining is God’s—and yet we have the privilege of being a small part of this work through a gospel-centered youth ministry.”

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You can view the whole thing here.

You can read other published articles here.

Published: You’re Not Wasting Your Degree In Youth Ministry

A little while back Tim Gough of YouthWorkHacks.com wrote a couple of posts encouraging greater training for those in youth ministry. The first, ‘Why Train For Ministry?‘, gives a number of bullet point-like sentences on how training can help in the formation and learning of a youth pastor. The second, ‘How To Pick A Youth Ministry Training Course?‘, gives a brief framework on what to think about when considering a course for further youth ministry study.

I enjoyed reading both pieces, which made me reflect on how my Master of Divinity studies have helped me in the youth and young adult ministry I’ve found myself. I was inspired so much that I ended up writing a guest post which Tim posted recently.

You can read it here.

“I have found, possibly because of my education, that I am not viewed solely as the Youth Pastor but as one of the pastoral team. This could be unique to my church of course, but I suspect that because of the wider training I have, I can be a voice and make respected theological contributions to conversations the church is having. There is a sureness in my thinking and preaching because I am able to wrestle and converse with various aspects of Scripture. I’m not just seen as the guy who can run a good game of dodgeball and deliver a sex talk when needed.”

You can access other guest posts I’ve had published here.

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