How Do I Become a Youth Pastor?
Do you ever think back to a time before youtube and the internet's prominence? When you wanted to change a light fixture out, you either knew how to do it or did not. There was no looking up a quick video or searching for a how-to guide. Our culture has made it extremely convenient to learn how to do most anything these days, but some are more difficult to answer.
The main question we want to talk about today is, how do I become a youth pastor? It's an interesting question because, unlike most careers, there seems to be a stigma surrounding it. People don't often discuss calling into the corporate world, lawn care, or even medical fields. Yet when ministry is discussed, we often refer to a "called to ministry" moment. The beauty of this position is its variance, though. Just as each youth ministry contains different students, each youth pastor’s journey is unique to them. Here are four different paths we have seen on the road to becoming a youth pastor!
I mentioned this earlier, but calling is a unique word to the ministry context. We can often think of calling as the Lord speaking to Samuel, but we can also experience calling in a different form. For me, my calling came during a youth ministry service while I was in high school. I felt an indistinguishable urge that I was to pursue students for the sake of the Gospel with my life.
Calling adds to your ministry career's spiritual components, and it can often serve as a reminder for why you are doing what you are doing. Youth ministry is not for the faint of heart, and so remembering your calling will serve as a spiritual mile-marker for the years to come. The biggest hesitation I give when discussing calling is remembering that there is no ranking list when it comes to calling. Your story is not better than another pastor's story because of how you were called if you were even called to ministry. God works through His people for His good, and we are all the same in His sight.
Notice I said if you were even called to ministry. We can often assume if we started our youth ministry career through a calling, that everyone heard a divine voice leading them to students. For some, it is simply an opportunity.
Perhaps you are currently the youth pastor because of a story like this. The Senior Pastor approached you and asked if you would be willing to head up some programming for students on Wednesday night. That evolved to doing a small Sunday School setup, and next thing you know, you've been leading the youth ministry for twenty years! I think of it as a reverse Field of Dreams moment. They came, so you had to build it!
For those of you who have this opportunity in front of you, you might wish you had the burning bush moment of being called to ministry. Understand this: your ministry is just as valuable as any other youth minister out there. You are not less of a youth pastor because you "lacked" a calling, rather your calling might have been a LITERAL call from someone. I'm not trying to say God lacks the ability to call every one of us into youth ministry supernaturally, but I do believe God knows how to move. I know I can often respond much faster to a present need over something I can’t yet see. There is a certain and needed beauty in being willing to put a yes on the table. Becoming a youth minister to meet a need or an opportunity is a powerful reason to begin.
The next reason you might pursue a career in youth ministry is your passion for students and the next generation. We all want to be passionate about what we do, and serving as a youth minister should be no different. When you think about the best youth ministers you know, each one of them has a strong desire to see students come to faith in Jesus. The youth minister who believes in this mission will be one who is un-wavered in the struggles that surely come alongside this field. If you are going to pursue a youth minister's life, we pray that you have a passion for students, but mostly for Jesus.
Why do I say it that way? I heard a quote from a co-worker who likely heard it somewhere else. “We need to have a passion for Jesus and a like for students." I love this quote because it's real in the youth ministry world. Students are hard to deal with sometimes, and there are many moments where the Rockstar youth minister dislikes his students just a bit. When we serve out of our passion for Jesus, it's amazing what He can accomplish through us the broken people of the Church. If you serve simply out of a passion for your students, it makes sense that burnout will occur. We are serving students, yes, but we are serving students for a larger purpose and call. We are serving students to direct them to Jesus.
Learn as You Go
The last path I want to talk about is the path of learning as you go. Perhaps you are stepping into this crazy world of youth ministry, but you feel immensely unprepared. I’m here to tell you that we are all learning as we go. Even the Doug Fields and Andy Blanks of the world don’t know everything there is to know about student ministry. We don’t have all of the answers to how to run the perfect student ministry, but we serve the one who does. If you have Jesus and a like for students, you are going to be just fine.
I'm not saying to walk in completely blind, and I would suggest reading a book or two out there. There are loads of options, and I think you should lean into those that sound interesting. I'd suggest finding a book about the following topics, though, to get started: teaching to students, student discipleship, and marketing. Teaching to students is a different ball game than teaching to adults, and that's ok. I think it's personally way more fun! There are great resources out there for teaching students. The second book is on student discipleship because one key to a successful ministry is peer connections. If your students are learning and growing together, they will stay connected to the youth group. If you are the only one teaching and feeding them, what will happen when they go off to college? If you can't find a good book on this one, please reach out to a youth minister you know or can trust. If you don't know one, I'd be happy to chat!
The third book suggestion might seem odd, marketing? Why marketing? Let's call it like it is; there are tons of things vying for your student's time. As much as we wish the youth group were the only option, it's not. I'd suggest looking into marketing just to learn how to position your events and youth group as strongly as possible. This is a hot take, I know, but I promise one or two books on marketing will teach you everything you need to know about helping get people in the door.
Notice that we never mentioned education. I think people believe the proper route to youth ministry is: calling, seminary, successful youth minister. I know plenty of successful and great youth pastors who have never stepped foot in a seminary (online or digital), and I know plenty of youth pastors who are wonderful who have. The education is not the difference-maker here; it's the faithfulness to follow Jesus. Don't let the world look down on you because of your degrees or lack of them, rather show them Jesus by your passion for seeing students come to know Jesus.
We know youth ministers wear many hats, and for some of you, the title youth minister is a brand new hat for you. Here at YM360, we love helping you become the hero of your youth group by creating biblically-based curriculum and life-changing events. If there is ever anything we can do to help you and your ministry, please feel free to let us know! Thanks for reading, and please know we’re glad to call you a youth minister.