The End of the Professional Youth Pastor?


This following is taken from Marko’s blog on innovations i’m convinced are needed in youth ministry:

models and practices for non-professional youth workers
sorry to be the doomsday guy, but the era of professional youth workers is going away, eventually. it might linger longer in certain denominations (like, southern baptist) or geographies (like, the south); but it’s on the decline, and it’s not going to return.

small churches, of course, have long done youth ministry without paid staff. but mid-sized to large white, suburban churches (where the majority of paid youth workers exist) have no idea how to even think about youth ministry without paid staff; and very soon, the money is just not going to be there.

I love and whole-heatedly agree on Marko’s first two points (not quoted here). I reluctantly see this third point – and it saddens me on some level, being what I have built my life doing. My question, based on Marko’s point of contextualization would be for those in the Midwest and particularly in the Chicago area, do you agree with this and how do you see how this may evolve in the near future?

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About howie snyder

Love Jesus, love my family, love meeting new people and sharing life with them!
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25 Responses to The End of the Professional Youth Pastor?

  1. crystalsuelindell says:

    From where I sit, that’s about the same as saying, “Churches are going to stop having paid pastors because of the economy.” I believe that any church that values it’s youth ministry will see the value of bringing in someone called by God to work in such ministry and it just so happens that hiring them (with money) to work for your church tends to be how that happens. Now, I do believe part-time positions will continue to increase while full-time positions decrease. But if a church really values the youth in a church, they will find a way to make the money side work out.
    In my humble opinion anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Howard Snyder says:

    Interesting perspective. I wonder where the gifts of the Spirit fit in here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave Turner says:

    Based on your quote (as I didn’t read the original article yet) I would beg to differ with Marko. The downturn in the economy may have hindered churches from being able to support full time youth workers, but my gut tells me that this will change if and when the economy takes a turn for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. howiesnyder says:

    Thanks for your guys’ thoughts here! Good points. That was one of my thoughts too – that maybe we will have a different perspective as the economy recovers. Also, I’ve thought that there may be a natural correction to the number of full-time youth ministry positions that there were and maybe we are leveling out. Like it was the “in thing” for a while to search for and hire a youth pastor, and so many churches were doing this, maybe over-doing this, that there now may be a leveling off of it.

    Also, I’m seeing new ideas for new titles in churches for the youth minister that I think are good – to help steer away from the segregated idea of youth ministry in the church, such as found in this blog, http://theyouthcartel.com/2012/we-didnt-hire-a-youth-pastor/, calling their new hire, Student Integration Pastor. I love this.

    Thinking in line with your comment on this too Dad, and on the need to contextualize for each ones’ particular church and community culture and also for the gifts of the Spirit for who God has placed in your midst, the need to stop the whole idea of one-title-fits-all or one-approach-fits-all and really look to be unique to each particular situation in titles and roles of staff. This whole idea is actually exciting to me. Ha, as William Paul Young said, WWJD should be What WILL Jesus Do!

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  5. howiesnyder says:

    Dad, on the same vein, Tim Schmoyer has an excellent blog here, http://www.studentministry.org/role-youth-pastor-changing/, where he has a section titled, “Spiritual Gift vs. Position” where he has some good thoughts directly on this that I thought are very good.

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  6. It seems our culture has a decided tendency toward the extreme and either/or perspectival thinking. Historically (pre-1940s), there was little concern for adolescent ministry when that age group was not considered significantly distinct from adulthood (other than as apprentice, etc.). So, when it became obvious that Christian education needed to address the bourgeoning needs of teenagers, an entire industry mushroomed. Now with the one-eared Mickey church structure, and little interaction between teens and adults, we have noticed that “sticky faith” does not happen. Obviously, multigenerational relationships are crucial for the equipping of “the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:12, 13). At the same time, there is a definite distinction between the generations, and with society changing at lightening speed–and, globally–the need for an “expert” on teen development and culture is even more important than ever. I see it as a both/and. The church body ought to develop leaders that are gifted and equipped in various areas that can focus on specific groups to help reach and meet the needs, while acting as liaison to incorporate the meeting and growing of the entire body. I don’t think that emphasizing multigenerational discipleship means less of a need for youth-specific minister. Indeed, it seems more crucial now than ever. Who is going to help the retired-aged folks understand the wired high-schooler? and, the teen to develop regard for and appreciate the luddites?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. howiesnyder says:

    Nicole, your thoughts speak well to the idea of a Student Integration Pastor or incorporating that task in the life of the church better. Whatever the position is called, I do see the need for the way we viewed youth ministry in the last few decades to morph to more these directions.

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  8. Rick Nier says:

    Hey Howie,

    I’d love to just defiantly thrust my fist in the air and shout, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ But I would do so from a desk where I also oversee children’s ministries, college ministries and adult small groups, as well as anything else the senior pastor needs. ‘I serve at the pleasure of the president.’

    Close to home, I see less and less of my fellow peers the longer I serve.

    I think my real problem with this, as I read Marko’s post, was that this should be seen as an innovation. Is this a trend? Seeing pastors who focus on youth and their families as something that is less than ideal? I don’t get that.

    Are there things that the professionals are getting wrong? I’ll admit that. As youth ministry (and yp’s along with it) continues to mature, our techniques will continue to adapt.

    Sorry, I’ve never let go of the idea taught me long ago that this is not a position to use to climb a ladder. I committed at the beginning to stay until the end.

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    • howiesnyder says:

      Good thought Rick – thanks! I remember when I first came into the Southern Michigan Conference – it was the Fall of 2000. And we did the Pastor’s Overnighter out at Somerset Beach Camp and all the youth pastors got together in the A-Frame building and I recall being a pretty larger group. And then over the years I saw many churches that used to have youth pastors no longer have them. I’m not in that conference anymore, but I’m sure the number of full-time youth ministers now compared to then is less than half – crazy! I definitely think there is still a place for those who specialize in youth ministry, but I certainly see that there is a need to integrate youth ministry more with the rest of the church – and I see how this can be done in different ways. And every situation is different, so hopefully we’re moving away from the cookie-cutter approach and learning to tailor to specific contexts.

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  9. WICK says:

    Much of what I would say, seems to have been said. I agree a bit with the “may as well say ‘paid pastors'”, if we’re going based on economy. I also agree with the thoughts behind a student integration pastor. I still hold the “Youth Pastor” title here, because that’s what they’re used to me being called. I am the point person for youth ministry happenings in our local church. But I also preach, do hospital visits, administer the elements, am available to marry/bury, cry & pray with adults/families that suffer, lead worship, teach a class, lead a small group, drive our senior adults,…etc.

    We may begin to use different titles, in order to better reflect what we’ve wanted to happen this whole time. But I don’t see supportive pastor roles going away anytime soon. True, there may be less and less professional youth pastors defined as those who solely organize youth functions, love lock-ins, and eat pizza for every meal. But I think we’re all okay with that.

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  10. Nick Giannasi says:

    I would bet that Marko is off on this one. I was trying to find some research to support or reject his claim but all I could find was various colleges offering youth ministry degrees. I think he is right from the standpoint that the traditional “Youth Pastor” is fading away and is being replaced by a more broad spectrum job title and description like Pastor of Family Ministries and Director of Youth, College & Career Ministries. Career Ministries is not Youth ministry but still very needed an relevant.

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    • howiesnyder says:

      Nick, that’s my title – Director of Youth/College/Career Ministries. What you shared here is a lot like Wick’s comment, just said in a different way. Obviously mega-churches have the luxury of hired people more specified to an area. Good questions are being asked today about these things though, which I think is healthy, even if we don’t always agree with them. I personally do like the idea of new title innovations though, because it takes away from what has become a stereo-typical view of youth ministry with just hanging out with youth with pizza and doing Lock-Ins and so forth. And obviously there have been a lot of negative stereotypes that have been associated with the title youth pastor over the past couple decades, including scandal, but also views of them as not-professional, immature, “not-real-pastors” and so forth.

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  11. Nathaniel Palaci says:

    Like many, I too agree with the fact that the the specific job of “Youth Pastor” is fading out of churches more and more everyday. Especially, in smaller or mid-sized churches all across our country. In addition, especially, in church bodies in more urban areas like Chi town and it’s greater land areas. To be honest, it really saddens me to admit it. Being that I am one of those youth leaders that have such a love for youth but more times than none have become side tracked from my initial responsibility for the youth because there is so much other needs in other areas of ministry. I believe partly because of the lack of finances in the church that we cant pay someone for their time, but also the lack of volunteer workers. I recall working for years in the church with no pay. Therefore, more than being worried with the extinction of youth pastors, I am worried for volunteer workers. I think that this whole volunteer thing is lacking more and more in today’s times which is causing the specific title of youth pastor to fade away. Can we blame people for not volunteering? Not really. Times change and stress rises in our people today. Life goes 100 mph faster than it did 5 years ago. People barely have time for themselves today, yet alone, the church. Therefore paid staff (youth pastor) have to pick up much more slack which really gives them a lot more job titles than just youth pastor. Personally, I believe having a specific focus on the youth in a church body is key for the church. These youth hold our future Christianity in their hands. Same goes with children’s ministry. It is pretty scary if you ask me. Although, God knows whats up. He won’t leave us or forsake us. So I hold on to that with all my gripping capacity possible. Youth leaders will live on. They have to.

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    • howiesnyder says:

      “Youth leaders will live on. They have to.”

      Right on Nathaniel! I personally feel that one of the causes of what you indicated above is that the world’s culture is influencing and infecting our worldviews in the church when it should be the other way around! How can we as a church become THE people of God and be distinct from the world? That is our challenge. When as a body of believers we can become passionate for Christ and for loving each other, and this infects our whole lives, not just our Sunday morning church-going time, a whole shift can take place in our worldviews and our church community culture, that being a part of youth, children or other ministries becomes an overflow of our love relationship with Christ, not some duty that we may or may not allow us to be guilted into doing.

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  12. Tracey says:

    Youth Pastor won’t go away, it is the education that will. You don’t have to be educated as a Youth Pastor to be one, as both that I work for as admin are not educated as Youth Pastor or whatever you want to call it. All we need are people who want to work with youth, love them, hang out with them and help them grow in their faith. So maybe it may turn into more part time work, but there is still a need, and as you all probably know, these areas of ministry are ones most people run from. I work for both middle and high school. Truly my fav is middle school, taught them 5 years and will always have a soft spot in my heart for those kids. A church that values the youth will make it a priority to have a paid staff worker for their kids.

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    • howiesnyder says:

      I love Middle School youth too! One of the big advantages of doing ministry in this day and age of the internet is the fantastic helps that are available for those in youth ministry online. From reading blogs or downloading podcasts and free resources, there’s a ton out there that can help educate those in youth ministry, if they are willing to seek them out.

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  13. Jonathan says:

    Howie, don’t have much to add, but wholeheartedly agree with the idea of ministry titles and roles morphing to fit God’s plan for the church moving forward. That’s just exciting. Good read!

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  14. Melanie S says:

    I certainly hope that youth pastors are valued and increase in numbers. I would love to see an educated youth pastor position in our church. We had a strong children’s program 15 years ago. Now those kids are a source of pride for us in college and high school. Almost nobody younger is following them at this point. All of the teenagers are led by loyal and faithful volunteers. We feed them spiritually through bible studies, Sunday school, retreats, and mission opportunities but I think they would welcome a youth pastor.

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    • howiesnyder says:

      Melanie, I know so many that say the same thing – but in reality, sometimes the church that does not get a youth pastor ends up doing a better job in youth ministry overall! That is because often, when a church gets a youth pastor, the volunteers that have spent so much time plugging into the youth suddenly feel like they can step down now and take a break – and it ends up becoming a segregated ministry from the rest of the church. But the healthiest youth ministries are the ones that are integrated into the whole life of the church! Melanie, check out this article: http://www.studentministry.org/role-youth-pastor-changing/ – definitely something that I think every church should read before they hire a new youth minister!

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  15. When churches make decisions, they are often reactionary. That’s why we even have youth pastors in the first place. “There are a bunch of teens in our church, and we don’t know how to deal with them…lets find an expert in teens and let him/her deal with them.” (this is mark yaconelli’s take, and I agree with him). Let’s also remember that youth ministry is almost exclusively an American institution, where fewer and fewer people attend church every year. Around the globe, where people in communities form churches (instead of the other way around), it would be considered quite odd to separate kids and teens from their folks to give them ‘specialized’ spiritual teaching. You could make the argument that youth pastors ought to spend more time with the parents of teens than teens. You could make the argument that a youth pastor ought to make youth retreats where teens could only come if their parents came too. My son’s violin teacher makes us do everything he does. There is no dropping him off for an hour. We have to be there and participate the entire time. Same thing with cub scouts. No dropping off. But Parents can do that with youth ministry, and we wonder why 75% of college students who used to be in a youth ministry just walk away from faith. Marko could be right about youth pastor’s being a dying breed. I don’t think it is the economy’s fault. There are a lot of great men and women out there working their tails off for the sake of the teens they love. That is to be applauded. But many of them are hired out of a church’s desire for an expert in dealing with teens. I see two inherent flaws with this…1. There is no such thing. 2. That is the parents’ job. Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about the crazy-haired, girl-jean wearing skater-kid who looks like trouble, and spend more time getting to know his folks (if he has any), and seeing how we can show them some love and encouragement. What would happen if every youth pastor in North America just quit? Maybe then they could get a good paying job that was 40 hours a week, get real vacations, and spend their time giving their ‘best’ to their own families, instead of sharing their best with 20 others. Then again, who would save all these teenagers’ souls if the YPs all quit? Who would show my kids where 3 John was in the Bible? Who would teach them to love their neighbors, or share food with the poor, or give generously of their time and money? Surely not me.

    Maybe Marko is right, the YP is a dying breed. But, it shouldn’t be another reactionary thing, like, “oh crap, we don’t have enough money to pay them”. It should be because YP’s aren’t needed anymore, because parents have been restored to their rightful place as the pastors of their own families.

    How this happens I have no clue. Its just a dream.
    -Tom

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    • Wick says:

      Good stuff. Perhaps a part of that beginning to happen, is for current youth pastors to recognize they are not just pastors for youth. We are pastors who exist for the church as a whole, and desire to serve the families towards Christ. To be the presence of Jesus among whatever age group that brings us toward (and it should bring us toward every age group at some point in the week/month). It also begins with our ministry and identities in our own homes – as we desire to share that same family faith perspective with the families in our church, it must be lived. That also means churches must understand, support, and resource their Pastor toward the care of their family as a top priority. Only then will a Pastor be able to call on those they serve to tackle this unfortunately new ancient concept of discipleship happening within the home.

      So perhaps along those lines, our titles should be changed in a way that the broader church begins to accept that our existence is for them as well. I can preach, serve communion, lead worship, pray with people in the hospital, do weddings, and lead all sorts of various “all-church” activities, etc…..but with the title “Youth Pastor”, it may still just be received as “Aw, look at that talented youth pastor, able to do all the things a real pastor does.” 🙂

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      • howiesnyder says:

        Ha, that last comment there cracked me up, Wick. Right on though with your stuff. Your blog for parents is awesome too – love what you’re doing!

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    • howiesnyder says:

      Tom, I follow you on all this. I have often thought myself that I could do a better job reaching my youth if I stopped focusing on them and spent all my time working to disciple their parents. But then I think, isn’t that my pastor’s job? I’m just so frustrated with being in churches where no real discipleship seems to be going on with the parents in the church. Then they want me to fix their children, but they aren’t doing hardly any kind of work themselves to seek for the Kingdom of God. The Parents should be the one showing their own kids where to find 3 John, teaching them to love their neighbors and sharing food with the poor and so on. Ugh.

      And good point on the whole “reactionary” thing that always seems to happen. Right with you on that as well.

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