Youth pastors are pretty great people. I might be biased (being a youth pastor and all), but I make that claim having known a lot of youth pastors. Youth workers not only tend to have big hearts, but they have some talents that sometimes border on superhuman feats of strength and skill. They can pull off an amazing summer camp on a tight budget. Part-time and bi-vocational youth pastors somehow find a way to prepare a Bible study each week and care for students between their two other jobs. And most youth pastors can still genuinely love teenagers even after a night of zero sleep at a lock-in.
Despite all that, youth pastors aren’t the superheroes some make us out to be.
Now, I don’t think that I’m too bad of a youth pastor. I’ve learned a ton from experience and mentors, and I even have a fancy degree on my wall. But I’m no superhero. And even if I were, I probably would use my powers for my own benefit, and not for others. Still, I’ve found that some people believe that all youth pastors have a certain set of superpowers. Today, I’d like to set the record straight and let the world know that there are some superpowers that youth pastors don’t in fact possess:
I can’t make your teenager come to church. Listen, I really want your teenager to come to church to experience a loving environment and hear about Jesus. But if I could will him to come to church, I would have already done that by now. I’m happy to give him a call and extend a friendly invite or meet him for coffee if he’d be up for that. I’m flattered that you think your teenager would go to church if I told him to. I just don’t have that kind of influence over every teenager’s actions.
I can’t organize a youth service project to [insert major construction project that would likely require a professional here]. Serving others is a non-negotiable part of following Jesus, and so we do encourage our students to serve at a large group service project or in their small groups. But I’ve found that ideas for service projects that begin with, “You know, the youth really should…” often involve more power tools than I’m comfortable giving a seventh-grade girl.
I can’t organize a gathering of all of our teenagers on twenty-four hours notice, no matter how great the event or cause might be. At least a couple of times a year, a well-meaning person will call me to tell me about a great event coming up in the next one or two days, and that I should get “all the youth” on the bus and take them. If I had that kind of ability, it would save me a ton of time promoting our upcoming fall retreat.
I can’t make teenagers stop whispering and giggling in church. Or turn off their cell phone, take off their hat, or bring their Bible with them. Or any other behavior you desire. Well, I might be able to do it occasionally, and if I’m sitting with a teenager who’s playing Candy Crush during service, I’ll politely ask them to stop. But in general, you can’t control every aspect of a teenager’s behavior, because when you try to, they’ll realize you don’t love them without any strings attached and leave. So take a cue from Jesus and love teenagers despite their imperfections. Besides, that’s how Jesus loves you, too.
I can’t love your teenager as much as I love my own kids. I love your family. I sleep with my phone by my bed just in case you have an emergency that can’t wait until the morning. I’ve turned around my car on the way to a dinner date with my wife to rush to the hospital to be with your teenager in the Emergency Room. And I’ve spent Christmas Eve with your kids (and away from my own family) because their dad died suddenly the day before. I do love your teenager, and that’s part of what it means to be a youth pastor. But I need to set boundaries, because the kids that get majority of my time and love are my own.