Friday, January 28, 2011

Youth Ministry: An Old-Timer Remembers

Most of you know (because it says so right at the top of this page) that I spent 28 years in youth ministry. For the vast majority of the years from 1978-2007 I worked for churches and religious organizations. I witnessed a lot of growth and a lot of changes during those years. I was a part of one of the first generations of career youth pastors. Up until the late 1970's, youth work was something you did on your way to something else.  Can you believe that once upon a time people thought the only difference between being a youth pastor and being a senior pastor was age?  Most full-time youth leaders were hired as Associate Pastors or Directors of Christian Education and then thrown to the wolves, regardless of their gifts.  I was around when pretty much the only resources for youth leaders were the Ideas Books.  I was there when youth groups were after-thoughts for most churches, with no budgets and no staff.  I witnessed youth ministry become a priority in many churches, with all kinds of money thrown at the ministry. With one move in 1994 I went from a $800 budget to a $12,000 budget- for almost the same number of youth!  I worked at one church for $50 per month and did not get paid during the summer, because in those early days most student ministries shut down for those months. During those years I worked at a summer camp.  I served as the regional youth ministry resource person and event planner for Quakers in New England in 1985-86, serving over 80 churches, and was paid $14,000 for the year. In 2000 I took a position at a church in Illinois that paid me over $70,000 for doing less work than any other position I have ever held.  And now I am seeing churches cut staff and budgets as the economy impacts ministry.  At least 2 of the positions I once held no longer exist.  We have come full circle.

When I started there were no VCRs, no PCs and no cable TV.  We did have CB radios.  The only CCM artists I had ever heard of were Amy Grant, Keith Green, Larry Norman and some lady named Evie.  A Praise Band was called a guitar.  I watched as the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention went from a once a year event with about 600 in attendance to the multiple city, many thousands of participants events we see today.  In those days Doug Fields was just a guy in Jim Burns' youth group.  When I started, GROUP was a magazine for the students in your youth group- and that was all.  No work camps and no magazine for leaders- just a long-since extinct event for students called the National Christian Youth Congress.  There is no truth to the rumor that Moses was in my first youth group- although  Duffy Robbins once told a seminar I had been his youth pastor.  He also told them I had been his mother's youth pastor.  Seriously!  But you get the point- I have seen a lot.

Lots of the changes have made student ministry much better and helped us have a greater impact in the lives of the youth we serve.  But sometimes I think we have changed simply for the sake of change.  We have bought into new ideas without prayerfully considering their full impact; we have been guilty of being trendy. In my humble opinion we have too often chosen program and style over relationships.  Tomorrow I want to share with you 7 Things I think I know about student ministry.  Some are out of step with current trends.  A couple may be a bit controversial in today's world.  Nonetheless, I want to share them in the hope that the lessons I learned may be of use to others.  I am no longer a youth pastor; I lost that great privilege in 2007.  But I still have a heart for it and a calling to it.  I have a 15 year old son, and seeing how he and his friends are being ministered to (or not) gives me cause for prayer and reflection.  If tomorrow's post ends up sounding like I am preaching, it is because I am!  Nothing brings out the passion in me more than talking about Jesus and student ministry.  Come back tomorrow and be part of the dialogue.

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous1/28/2011

    Pretty amazing the changes you have witnessed. Every young student pastor (like myself) should read this. Looking forward to tomorrow! -Trent

  2. Thanks Trent! I hope it will get passed around and shared.

  3. Very good, you hit it right on the head, I have been in youth ministry for the past 27 years, and you hit it right on. Thank you!

  4. Ahhh, those were the days! Doing newsletters by cutting and pasting bits of clipart from clipart services or Ideas books. Or using rub on letters and a burnisher to do headings in my youth newsletter.
    Good stuff!

  5. Thanks for remembering with me, Rog and Jerry. We oldtimers have to stick together. And Jerry, the cut and paste clip-art days are best forgotten! :)

  6. can i use your picture for college porpose please? thanks


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