Charismatic, Engaging, Fun, Energizing, Enthusiastic, Approachable, Friendly, Encouraging, Caring, Gifted.
All of these things at one time or another are used to describe who we want to see as a youth worker in our youth groups. A few descriptors that are not so often heard are: Theologically and Doctrinally Sound. Sometimes this isn’t even expected of a youth pastor. Afterall, they just work with kids.
How is it that we have forgotten that our youth are some of the most important parts of our congregation and yet we leave them in the hands of capable (and not so capable) youth workers. I say this from experience.
When I got my start in student ministry not one question was asked of me about where I stood theologically or doctrinally. However, I had spent from February (Super Bowl Sunday) until October before I was asked to be an intern. The church had plenty of time to see my faith in action. But that still doesn’t excuse the fact that I was not asked any questions about where my faith stood, in a formal setting.
What’s worse is I went to be on staff at a church and honestly the toughest question I remember them asking me was if I believed the Bible was 100% true. I know they asked me questions about where I lined up with the Baptist faith and message but when it all boils down to it my two toughest theological hurdles in my interview was explaining why I believed the Bible was the inspired word of God and were I stood on the creation of the earth.
I had always heard different stories about youth ministers and youth workers doing things that were completely contradictory to what we should do as leaders but it hasn’t been until I have been on the other side of it that it has truly begun to ring true in my life. In the past few years I have met people that have said “yeah I was a youth leader, sometimes I’d let them out of service early so I could go smoke weed” and tonight I heard “yeah I was a junior high youth leader, I made them read “XXX book” and really I only did it so I could have money to buy beer”.
We wonder why our student ministries are struggling. We wonder why after our students leave the youth group they never come back. It’s because of things like this. It’s because of people like me even. I am not saying that I’m above reproach but what I am saying is that something should be done.
1 Peter 2:12 says: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
So in this manner we should be looking for youth workers who are living their lives in this way. We shouldn’t just be looking for the external though that we see when they are inside the church. But really what do their “pagan” friends say about them? We live in a world today where everyone has friends who are non believers. We should be asking them if their friends are fit to be youth leaders.
We also have James 2: 14-20 which says:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]?
So we get into this whole faith and deeds thing. Obviously we need more than just deeds though. We need this faith that is backed by sound doctrine. This sound doctrine is both seen in our deeds but followed through with our words.
As is seen in Titus 2: 6-8
6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
So we see that we are to show integrity, seriousness and soundness. These are all three things which seem to be absent in many of our youth leaders today.
I’m not saying that we should always be second guessing ourselves with who we select to place in leadership. What I am saying is that we should consider the weight we are placing on these people. They are going to be the examples that our students see even more so than the student pastor. So we should make sure that their teachings and subsequent lifestyle is going to line up with our doctrine. If it doesn’t they shouldn’t be leading. The reality is that once that youth leader has moved on from your congregation they should still be able to speak into your students lives in a positive manner. If you are unsure whether this is going to happen you need to begin to consider other possible youth workers.
I’ve had many opportunities to impact students in my time in ministry. Though it’s a fun story to tell people that I brake checked a student from the back row of a 15 passenger van all the way to the front row, it’s an even more fun story to tell that I was able to counsel that student through some really tough life issues and now see them being a youth leader not just in the church but in the community as well.
When we choose our youth workers our questions shouldn’t be “How many students will they attract or How fun can they be?” They should be “How will they help our students grow doctrinally and in what ways can they disciple our students to live a legacy of the gospel?”