Top Ten Posts of 2012

Credit: Stockerre (Creative Commons)

It’s been another fun year for me writing on this blog. Thanks so much to those of you who trust me with your time by allowing me to be a part of your reading list. As I enjoy a fun week off with family, here are the ten most-read posts of 2012:

10) (Guest Post by Christine Niles): “Twenty-One Ways Churches Can Support Adopting Parents” (April 14th)

9) “Youth Ministry Tools That Will Be Relics in Ten Years” (June 5th)

8) “Three Signs You Aren’t Preaching the Word in Youth Ministry” (August 14th)

7) “KONY 2012, Invisible Children’s Detractors, and Loving, Christ-Centered Discernment and Disagreement” (March 7th)

6) “Dear Youth Pastor (How do I know if I’m called to youth ministry?)” (April 19th)

5) “Dear Youth Pastor (My Students Like Another Youth Pastor)” (May 24th)

4) “How to Alienate and Burn Out a Pastor’s Wife” (January 11th)

3) “Questions From Teenagers on God, Faith, and Life in General” (February 29th)

2) “Great Apologetic Resources” (April 11th)

1) “Lesson On Loving Your Family From Jeff Hornacek” (March 12th)

Check back tomorrow for the top five videos from 2012!

For Immediate Release: Youth Pastor of "Dear Youth Pastor" Fame Retires

PLEASANTVILLE (AP) – After a long, illustrious, and sinfully amazing career in youth ministry, Youth Pastor has decided to hang up his Xbox 360 and iPhone and call it quits. While the decision may seem sudden to his adoring fans, it was always in the plans according to Youth Pastor.

Youth Pastor, who’s legal name really is Youth Pastor, insists in an exclusive interview how moving on from youth ministry has always been what he intended to do.

“I always had my sights set on something higher,” explains Youth Pastor. “Am I great at youth ministry? Yeah. Maybe even the best ever. But youth ministry is never meant to be a final destination for a pastor. It’s kind of like the minor leagues. The best youth pastors eventually move on to the Big Leagues.”

(A note on Youth Pastor’s name: A search of public records failed to turn up conclusive evidence of his given name, although it has long been rumored to be Marion Archibald Templeton IV, a name that resulted in much ridicule for him in junior high.)

Though very candid about his reasons for moving on, Youth Pastor remains tight-lipped about future plans. He admits that several churches and publishing houses have expressed interest in landing him as a free agent, but he declined to discuss the specifics of those offers, or whether he had received anything in writing. Calls to the office of Scott Boras, his agent, were not returned.

“I’m just kind of biding my time, enjoying the moment, you know?” says Youth Pastor. “I’ve been blessed to have such a great career, getting to serve side-by-side with God in reaching so many amazing teenagers. But it takes its toll, and there are things that I’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had time to. It’s going to be nice to be able to catch up on lost time.”

Youth Pastor’s career wasn’t without a certain amount of controversy. While the stipulations of a legal settlement prevented Youth Pastor from talking about the incident during the interview, many detractors point to the Great Lock-In Fiasco of 2011 as the beginning of the end of Youth Pastor’s youth ministry career. In addition, Youth Pastor’s unusual tactics often drew criticism from fellow youth workers and teenagers alike. One recent response to his “Dear Youth Pastor” advice column exclaims, “I am appalled at this!! What is the point of youth ministry if you are just going to keep them entertained and not teach them anything?”

Discipleship Family Ministry, the organization that has published Youth Pastor’s advice column for the past few years, declined to be interviewed for this piece. Benjer McVeigh, the blog’s spokesperson, instead pointed us to the organization’s official statement on Youth Pastor’s retirement, which states in part, “We respect Youth Pastor’s decision to move on from youth ministry and will respect his request for privacy during his transition. Youth Pastor’s letters will still be accessible as archives on our website for the foreseeable future.”

When asked if he has any regrets, Youth Pastor responds after a thoughtful sigh: “No. No regrets. It’s been a good ride. I just wish I had allowed myself to enjoy it a little more. When you’re the best at what you do, sometimes the intensity required to stay on top keeps you from having fun with it all. But it has been a good ride, there’s no question about that.”

The Associated Press did not contribute one bit to this news report and should not be blamed for any of the inaccuracies that litter this news release. If–even after reading it a second time–you have no idea what this news release is talking about, see this post here.

Dear Youth Pastor (My Students Like Another Youth Pastor)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

It’s been a depressing week for me. Last week, I took my youth group to a concert at another church in our area. The concert went well, the kids seemed to have a good time, so when the last song was over, I thought it had been a great event. Boy, was I ever wrong. As we were leaving the church, I overheard some of our students talking about the guy who gave a short evangelistic sermon midway through the show. The speaker was the new youth pastor at the church that hosted the event. Apparently, everyone in our group really loved what this guy had to say, and one of our kids even said it opened his eyes to who Jesus really is! Now, they want to do MORE events with that church and have been asking when we’ll hang out with them again.

As you can imagine, I was devastated. I’m supposed to be the one who changes my students’ lives–not Jesus or other youth pastors! Have I lost my mojo? Where have I gone wrong? I’m really in need of some help.

Sincerely,
Pushed Aside in Pocatello

Pushed Aside:

I understand your pain, and you should know that you’re not the only youth pastor to experience such pain at the hands of another youth pastor. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. The key to bouncing back is to make sure everyone knows that youth ministry is all about you. Here are a couple of tips to help you along:

First, communicate to your students as clearly as you can that you are their primary spiritual guide. Discourage them to seek spiritual help from other sources, such as their friends, other churches, or their parents. And if you do encourage them to read the Bible, make sure they know that you’re the one with all the answers to questions they might have.

Second, make fun of other churches, youth ministries, and youth pastors in your area as much as possible. Make sure your students know that your youth ministry is the only one that can help them grow in their faith, and that they won’t have as close of a relationship with Jesus if they ever go to another youth group.

Third,–and I’m guessing you already know this after your experience at the concert–never EVER do a youth ministry event with another church–especially one that has a youth pastor remotely as cool as you. If you do events with other churches, your students might start to get the idea that you’re not the only one that can help them in their walk with Jesus.

With any luck, you’ll be right back on top in the minds and hearts of your students in no time at all.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Dear Youth Pastor: My Volunteers are Too Involved!

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

Not too long ago, my senior pastor came into my office to let me know about a new young couple who had relocated to our town and had recently become members at our church. He explained that they were both interested in working with teenagers, and had led the youth ministry at their former church before they moved. My senior pastor thought they would make great leaders and asked if I wouldn’t mind meeting with them to talk about adding them to our volunteer team.

Well, we met. And they became leaders. I knew it would be trouble from the start. The first few weeks weren’t so bad. I did my best to keep them busy with jobs like organizing the snacks in the church kitchen and cleaning up after the decorate-your-friend’s-face-with-ice-cream-toppings game. But then I went on vacation. Since none of my other leaders ever really stick around for more than a few months, I asked this new couple to lead youth group for the two weeks I would be out of town. It was a complete disaster. When I came back, they were energized, said they really enjoyed serving, and asked how they could serve more and give more time to our youth ministry. They even offered to lead youth group once a month so that I could have a week off from having to prepare a lesson!

If I don’t do something quickly, I’m afraid they are going to take on more responsibility and become more involved. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Worried in West Haven

Worried:

Your concerns are well-founded. Much trouble has been caused in youth ministries through the years by well-meaning volunteers who don’t understand their place in youth ministry: to clean up messes and make sure teenagers don’t break any rules. It sounds like your new leaders are really excited and energized, so you have a lot of work ahead of you. Here are a few things that will help you along:

Assign them tasks that keep them away from students. If they want to help, by all means, let them help! Find things for them to do that don’t involve a lot of contact with students, such as setting up games or running the sound equipment. You need to be careful on this one, though. It sounds like they might be the kind of leaders who will try to mentor students during such tasks by asking one or two to help them, so watch out for that sort of thing.

Avoid meetings of every kind. When you meet together with your leaders, chances are they might be encouraged by your time together, and rejuvenated enough to keep serving. Over-excited leaders will begin to lose steam if they can’t connect with you to discuss any issues they might encounter as leaders or to simply ask for advice.

When you’re on vacation, don’t ask them to help lead youth group; simply cancel it. From your letter, it sounds like you need to understand a key principle of youth ministry: youth ministry doesn’t happen without you, the youth pastor. Make sure you’ve got a hand in everything that goes on in your ministry. Not only will that stop volunteers from meddling, but it will keep you right where you belong: at the center of your youth ministry.

I hope this helps, Worried. Hopefully, you’ll be back to running YOUR ministry on YOUR terms sooner rather than later.

Best,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Dear Youth Pastor (How do I know if I’m called to youth ministry?)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

I have been praying about maybe becoming a youth pastor. I made a commitment to follow Jesus in junior high, and my youth pastor was a huge support and inspiration to me during some difficult times in high school. I really feel like God is leading me to youth ministry, but I’m not sure how to really know. I’m in my senior year of college and have been offered a part-time youth ministry position at a small church that would start this fall. I’d like to think that I’m ready, but I want to make sure that I’m doing what God wants, not just what I want. How can I know if I’m supposed to become a youth pastor?

Thanks for your help,
Searching in Santa Cruz

Searching:

I’m glad you asked. Every youth pastor has their story of when and where they started their youth ministry career. Many, like you, weren’t completely sure if they were doing the right thing. How do you know if you’re really supposed to be a youth pastor? Well, there’s no way to really know, but here are a few signs that you’re supposed to be a youth pastor:

You are a really popular and cool person. To be a youth pastor, you have to be 100% fun, 100% of the time. It’s a well-known fact that God can’t use introverts who aren’t the life of the party. When you work with teenagers, it’s important that you be just as cool as they are. If you’ve got this part down, you’re 90% of the way there.

You play the guitar and know just about everything about popular music. First, there has never been a youth pastor who wasn’t good at playing the guitar. For as long as I can remember (it’s probably in the Bible somewhere), youth pastors have been required to play the guitar. In addition, you have to like the same music teenagers do, or you won’t be able to relate to them. That’s why it’s not a good idea to have volunteers on your team who are over the age of 25.

You are a very outgoing person who loves messy games and lock-ins. Listen, if you don’t like silly games or sleep deprivation, I’m not sure why you even want to be a youth pastor. Youth ministry has to by synonymous with non-stop fun. If you aren’t good at keeping teenagers entertained, then you won’t be good at youth ministry.

I hope this helps you in your discernment! If you fulfill the requirements I’ve listed, then you definitely are called to be a youth pastor, and you’ll be a very good one to boot.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Dear Youth Pastor (Teenagers Can’t POSSIBLY Grasp Deep Topics)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

This past week, one of our volunteers called me on the phone. He told me about a book he’d been reading about something called apologetics. (I had to look it up just to spell it correctly!) He told me that it had really opened his eyes about how we can know that the Bible is true and that Jesus is who he claimed to be. He said that he thought our high school students could benefit from learning about apologetics, not only to encourage their own faith, but to help them share about Jesus with their friends, especially as they prepare to go to college.

I really wasn’t sure if this was a joke or not, so I didn’t know what to say. After a few minutes of awkward silence, I told him I’d think about it. After all, does he really think that teenagers are capable of that kind of thinking, or that they even are concerned about this sort of thing? What should I do?

Sincerely,

Concerned in Corona Springs

Concerned:

We hear about this sort of thing all the time. Well-meaning volunteers or parents do a bit of below-the-surface thinking, and the next thing you know, they want teenagers to do the same thing. This probably won’t be the last time you hear a volunteer using such big words, so make sure you know how to respond:

Keep the focus on what really matters. Teenagers aren’t ready for any kind of deep thinking. Youth workers need to stay away from teaching too deep of material, and just entertain our students long enough to keep them around church until their old enough to think for themselves. The best we can hope for is to get students sleep-deprived enough that they are tired and worn out enough to make a highly emotional profession of faith at the end of summer camp or a weekend retreat. Stay away from the deep stuff!

Make sure your volunteers know that teenagers aren’t interested in any kind of learning or intellectual engagement. Listen, we all know that the only thing that gets teenagers to youth group is just enough cute guys and cute girls. They last thing they are thinking about is whether the Bible really is true, or if they really can put their trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Difficult teaching of any kind should be avoided in youth ministry. If it’s a bit difficult to understand or perhaps even difficult to put into practice, you shouldn’t be teaching it to teenagers. And whatever you do, stay away from controversial topics such as whether Jesus is the only way. That’s only going to get you into trouble.

I hope that for your sake, all talk of topics that involve words with more than three syllables will be a thing of the past in your youth ministry.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Dear Youth Pastor (Kids have been missing youth group to serve!)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

Help! We’ve had something terrible happen at our church that has caused a small dip in attendance at youth group on Sunday night. A few weeks ago, I noticed that some of our students hadn’t been in attendance at youth group. I did a little investigating, and I found that some of our teenagers are helping out with our church’s Sunday night kids’ program that happens at the same time. Apparently, someone had seen these teenagers playing with young kids, and asked if they would enjoy serving in the children’s program.

I couldn’t believe that our children’s minister would do such a thing! I haven’t yet confronted him about it, and I was hoping you could give me a few pointers on how to deal with it.

Sincerely,
Hoarding in Helena

Hoarding:

What you have on your hands is a good old fashioned territory battle. The children’s ministry is stealing your teenagers, no question. First of all, they’ve got enough kids in their program; I don’t know why they’d be stealing yours. Second, everyone knows that the last thing teenagers need to be doing is serving somewhere other than the youth ministry. Does your children’s minister really believe that a teenager can grow spiritually in a leadership position, teaching young children about Jesus?

If you don’t nip this in the bud, the infection will spread. Before you know it, teenagers will be given opportunities to serve and lead all over your church: in worship, on mission trips NOT designed specifically for teenagers, and even visiting elderly church members who aren’t well enough to attend church. Unthinkable. Discourage your students from serving elsewhere in your church, and try your best to make the students who have been spending time in the children’s ministry feel bad about missing youth group. The more you can seem concerned for their spiritual well-being as you tell them what they’ve missed, the better the chance you’ll have of getting them out of volunteering their time with children and back in your youth room on Sunday nights.

Best of luck, Hoarding, and remember: we’re all in this together.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Dear Youth Pastor (Tiny youth groups just aren’t cool)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

I know that you usually answer questions from other youth pastors, but I thought maybe you might take the time to read my letter and answer it. I am a tenth grade girl, and I attend a small church in my town. I’ve spent my whole life in this church. My mom and dad dedicated me there when I was a baby, I accepted Jesus when I was six during a Sunday school lesson, and I was baptized on Easter Sunday when I was seven. And when I started sixth grade, I became a part of our youth group.

I love my youth group. We meet most Sunday afternoons, and usually there are about six junior and senior high students total. Our church can’t afford to hire a youth pastor, but for the past two years, a teacher at my high school who goes to our church has led our youth group. He’s got a job and a family, but he always finds time to plan a great lesson and attend my dance recitals. The only time he’s ever missed a youth group was when his son was born! And there may not be a lot of youth at our church, but we’re family. When my grandma died last year, everyone in our youth group missed school and drove two hours to be at the funeral. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

A few weeks ago, a friend from school invited me to go to his church’s youth group on a Wednesday night. I love church, so I decided to try it out. Everyone was really nice, but it was a lot bigger than I was used to. There were more teenagers in their worship band than we have in our entire church! I had a lot of fun, the leaders were really interested in getting to know me, and the message was really good (I cried, but don’t tell anyone!). But I like my youth group, so I didn’t go back. My friend keeps inviting me back every week, though. He says that he doesn’t know why I like my youth group so much; he say’s it’s “boring.” I guess he doesn’t get the fact that we’re family, even if only two of us show up some weeks. What can I tell him?

Thanks,
Steadfast in Sterling

Steadfast:

Thanks for writing in. I’m always happy to take some time to answer a letter from an adoring teenage fan!

This may not be what you want to hear, but I’m going to have to side with your friend on this one. I mean, youth group isn’t about family. It’s about entertainment! To give you a little insight on the inner workings of youth ministry, let me share with you some advice I always give youth pastors who are looking to attract more students: the only way to be a true youth ministry is to put on as good of a show as you can. This is why I tell larger youth ministries who want to focus on small groups so that they can create more “community” that community is NOT where it’s at. If you put on a good show, no one’s going to care about “community,” “discipleship,” or any other silly notions youth pastors sometimes come up with.

I think you’ll be a lot happier when you start to understand that following Jesus means entertained as much as possible. I mean, did Jesus ever focus on silly things such as how his followers loved each other, or did he ever take a break from reaching the masses to just focus on a few of his followers? Of course not! You’re free to go to whatever church you want to, but remember: there’s only one right kind of youth group, and one right way to do youth ministry.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.

Dear Youth Pastor (Please can I be a senior pastor?)

Note: If this is your first time reading “Dear Youth Pastor,” please read this post first.

Dear Youth Pastor:

I had an interesting conversation with my senior pastor today. I’ve been in my position as the youth pastor for about a year now. He asked if he could speak with me, and so we met in his office after lunch. After a bit of chit-chat, he asked me where I thought our youth ministry was heading. More specifically, he wanted to know my dreams for what I thought our youth ministry should look like three to five years down the road. He told me that he had appreciated my leadership in the first year of my job, and he looked forward to what God had in store for our youth ministry in the coming three to five under my leadership.

Three to five years?

THREE TO FIVE YEARS???

I’ve already put a year of my life into being a youth pastor at this church. When you combine it with my job at my last church, I’ve already paid over two and a half years worth of dues as a youth pastor. TWO AND A HALF YEARS! I thought for sure I was getting close to a better position in our church, and eventually a senior pastor position somewhere. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Distraught in Delaware

Distraught:

Your frustration is apparent–and understandable. After all, we all know that the only reason anyone would want to do youth ministry is to bide one’s time, waiting for a higher position in that church or somewhere else. If a youth pastor plays his cards right, he will only have to work with teenagers for nine or eighteen months–tops! Then, he can leave youth ministry far behind, talking to teenagers as little as possible for the rest of his career. To make sure you get to that point as soon as possible, here are some things you can do:

Fabricate as much “success” in your youth ministry as possible. Everyone knows that one of the most important purposes of youth ministry is to test pastors (and potential pastors) to see if they are ready for “the big time.” It’s kind of like a laboratory to try people out in a place where they can’t screw too much stuff (or people) up, because teenagers will generally turn out fine and turn into responsible, God-fearing citizens as long as we keep them occupied and away from the opposite sex for most of their adolescence. So, try to tout as much of your own success as possible as a youth leader, making sure the Decision-Makers know that you are ready for the next step.

Focus on impressing the elder board’s teenagers. If you want to spend as little time in youth ministry as possible, you need to know who your audience is. If you can get the children of the important people in the church to like you and tell their parents how great you are, you’ll get out of youth ministry that much quicker.

Spend as much time “playing up” as possible. It’s important that you don’t actually spend much time doing youth ministry. Instead, get ready for your next position by “playing up” and doing big-kid pastoral stuff. After all, if you’re just going to be leaving your youth ministry position for a better job in a few months, you don’t really have to worry about whether things are going well in your youth ministry. As long as you provide enough fluff to keep the teenagers entertained, no one is going to notice that there’s no real discipleship going on.

I hope this helps, and I hope that for you, youth ministry will be right where it belongs: in the rear view mirror.

Sincerely,
Youth Pastor

Dear Youth Pastor is a public service to the good people who read this blog, and letters are published every Thursday. To ask Youth Pastor a question, just email him at DearYouthPastor@hotmail.com.