The Relationship Between Church and Youth Ministry

I invited another friend to engage in this conversation, and be a guest contributor by commenting on the relationship between youth ministry and the corporate church. Knowing that he had been mired in a very difficult situation with a church, as their youth minister, I believed he had a great perspective on what could make the relationship between youth ministry and the corporate church better. What I envisioned for this guest post, and what was written, were drastically different. Here are the questions I asked him to contemplate:

  • What is your perception of the current relationship between youth ministry and the “corporate church?”
  • You’ve worked with a few different churches — what would make this relationship better?
  • What makes this relationship suffer?
  • What should youth ministers to do to make this relationship better.

His submission was an answer born from a few years of crisis and frustration. Even now, in his current church, he is still in a situation that he feels is crippling his youth ministry. He asked me to not add his name to this post, in a bit of fear that his current church would uncover these thoughts and take some unseemly measures.

If you serve in any full-time ministry capacity, you will find familiar fear as you read this post. It is, after all, not a far stretch to see a very talented young man, early in his time as a minister, in a state of crisis with a church he served. You will see the musings of a guy who wonders, maybe still, why he made this career choice, after suffering through instances that were very hurtful and painful. Even now, he has begun his own  non-profit organization, in hopes that one day it will become a full-time opportunity to support his family.

He has, though, been a youth minister since 2003, and graduated Cum Laude from a very highly acclaimed Christian university.  He holds BA’s in psychology and ministry and is a lifetime member of Psi Chi, the National Honors Society for Psychology. His professional ministry work has taken him from Arkansas to Texas and Tennessee.  He has taught multiple classes at student events, and even directed a few.  While he now says he is blessed to work in a quite healthy environment, it has not always been that way.  In his own words, he “counts himself as blessed to have seen and survived some of the ugliest that church work has to offer, seeing it as an opportunity to share his experiences and help others lead more effective lives of service for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.”

After some consideration, I decided to include his post, without his name, per his request. You may agree, or disagree, with the post, but you won’t be able to deny the intensity.

Youth Ministers are the “” to pretty much any churchgoer under the age of 20 or so.  Unfortunately, for most churches, that leaves a good 90%, to whom, YM’s are weird, a little too excited, of questionable necessity, and worst of all, still getting ready for the big leagues (a.k.a, preaching).

I’ve worked in youth ministry in some form/capacity for a little more than 12 years, nine of which as “the Youth Minister” and the last seven as the same in a full-time position.  I’ve had relationships with many churches in various ways and I’ve loved all of it, but when Kyle asked me for a guest post about how to improve the relationship between the “corporate church” and youth ministers… Well, I was honored that he thought of me, but as I’m writing I’m still not sure this post will see the light of your computer screen.  He may burn his computer to rid it of evil spirits.  I told him I would only agree if he could promise anonymity because what I have to say will likely get you pretty fired up and I don’t want you to hunt me down and give me 40 lashes minus one.  (excuse me while I wipe the sweat from my hands…)

What you are about to read is something no college Bible professor will probably ever utter from his (or her) lips.  If you are reading this in your dorm room before cramming for a Life of Christ final, it may crush you, but please consider the fact that for you it’s not too late… Ready? Ok, here it is…

If you want you and your family to have the best possible relationship with the church where you do your work, never let them pay you one dime.  Never hold “Youth Minister” as a professional title.  Earn your money somewhere else and do all of your ministry simply as a volunteer.  By all means,  pour as much of yourself into it as possible, but don’t let your financial security rest on the security of your job as a minister.

Over the years, I’ve found that there are really just a select few churches who know how to really utilize, empower, and care for a youth minister.  Most places will ultimately leave you huddled in a corner behind the desk in your office, crying and in a fetal position… Not that I’ve ever done that.  Every day will be a fight, every little idea will be questioned, you will Google things like “ulcer symptoms,” and eventually you will wake up one Sunday morning and realize that you don’t want to go to worship.

Why does all of this happen? Money changes everything. Yeah, I know…

“Church work is different! I’m not in it for the money…besides, it’s just not like that!”

I don’t care.  I used to think all of the same things.  No more.  Let me break it down.

  1. It’s pretty obvious you aren’t in it for the money.  Most youth ministers work stupid hours, get calls in the middle of the night because he said she said, and take home a paycheck that makes public school teachers contort their faces. None of this means that money doesn’t matter.  When you have a house payment, a kid to feed, a car you bought for $1, and you enjoy using electricity money does matter.
  2. Once the new wears off and you settle in someplace people will decide that you aren’t really the best thing since sliced bread.  You will get complaints (anonymous, of course) about things that seem so simple and ridiculous it will destroy all hope you have for mankind.  No matter what is done, you will always be asked for more and you will never make everyone happy.  You will set up permanent residence between a rock and a hard place.
  3. Of all the things you would like to do, you will eventually believe only about 5% is possible. This is because when you realize the delicate balance that must be maintained to conduct smooth business… I mean, ministry… You’ll find yourself describing ideas as “too risky.” Even when you still have your income, it WILL affect your whole family when it comes from a clinched fist and gritting teeth.You may think I’m crazy.  You likely believe I’m just a cynical, run down, wannabe who’s been called out and chose to blame others.

Actually, if your goal now is to become a YM I’d nearly bet my last dollar that you do, but when you remove reliance on income, all the above changes.

You will take the risks, you will feel much more fulfilled, you will never have to worry about whether the people at church believe your friendship is genuine.  When you get exhausted, you can take a break. The worst that will ever happen to you as a volunteer (unless you break some kind of law) is you’ll say I’m sorry and laugh five minutes later.

You will get to emphasize the projects you are passionate about and leave the other stuff alone. You will be blamed for almost nothing. Everything you do will be declared “awesome.” You will feel a zillion percent more appreciated in your work.  Everything you work on will feel 10x more exciting. You will be totally unafraid of making strategic mistakes and learning from them.

You will never get fired.

Maybe best of all, you will be about 99% less likely to ever say the phrase “Church people have hurt me and my family more than anyone else.”

If your pulse and blood pressure are noticeably elevated right now, please go get a drink of water… Good… Now take some time to really think about what I’ve said. Talk it over with someone you trust. If you find that completely unsatisfying, contact Kyle and we can see about some direct contact. In the end, just go make yourself useful to someone else today.


While you’re here, read the previous guest post on the state of youth ministry here. And tomorrow, my third and final entry, from a guest contributor who is a director of spiritual formation at a Christian university. He has some great perspective on the value of youth ministers to students now in college.


One thought on “The Relationship Between Church and Youth Ministry

  1. Paul refused to be paid even though he had a right to make a living from the Lord’s work. Method behind his madness?

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