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Why I Suck as a Youth Pastor

(Expectations vs. Reality)

by Jason Deuman

Table of Contents



I Can’t Fix Your Kids


I’m not an entertainer/baby-sitter


I Don’t Have Cool Hair


I’m Not Always Available


I Don’t Want To Be Everyone’s Best Friend


I Like My Kids More Than Your Kids


I Can’t and Won’t Compete With MTV


I Really, Really, Really Love the Bible.


I’m Not Like Your Last Youth Pastor


I hate to break it to you, but somewhere along the line, you may have been lied to about youth ministry. Maybe you had the greatest youth pastor to ever grace God’s green earth. Maybe you were mentored, you were equipped, you were challenged, and you were called into youth ministry, and dad-gum you are following that call. Awesome, I’m really proud of you. And you know what,

that description above describes me.

things, and I was woefully unprepared for the actual work of youth ministry.

I was all of those

Let me tell you a little bit about my life. I grew up in the same church from age 5 to 22. I went to sunday school, kids church, kids choir, youth group, sunday morning and sunday evening services. I went on camp-outs, events, winter retreats, summer camps, scavenger hunts, all-

nighters, and more.

college tuition with all the money that I spent on activities in the church.

I probably could have paid for my

Speaking of College, I went to a private christian college, and studied the Bible, and all the while knew that I was

going into youth ministry.

try when I was in Jr. High, my youth pastor then was a great guy, his name was Jason too.

I felt the call into youth minis-

When I felt the call I was actually relieved because being a youth pastor in my understanding was hanging out with teenagers all day, and that sounded like a pretty cake job, much better than doctor, lawyer or teacher, or anything else.

How little did I know that youth ministry actually involves work, stress, effort, heart-ache, sleepless nights, no money, fear of other people’s opinion, never really feeling like you’re done, always having the temptation to keep working, over scheduling, running on fumes, and no money (did I already say that.)

Now I love being a youth pastor. I know that this is where God wants me. This is what God wants to do. But this book is intended to breath a little reality into the idealic world that most young youth pastors live in. Because if you are looking into youth ministry because you just want to hang out with kids, than please stop reading this book, go get a newspaper and find another job. Because this is way more than just hanging out with teenagers. This is way more than just planning events. This is more than being cool.

Youth ministry is probably the most important post in the


and we need to work to keep that gate wide open. We can’t keep pumping out teenagers who don’t know what the Bible says, we can’t keep building programs and ex- pect that to be what leads people to heaven.

We are the gate-keepers for the next generation

We need to break the mold of youth pastors from cool, buddy-buddy, guys with great clothes and neat shoes. We

need to build lives not programs, we need to show the way to Christ instead of another cool movie clip. And

some people might actually think you suck as a youth pas-

tor, but you won’t be alone. suck as a youth pastor.

So keep reading to see why I

Chapter 1 I Can’t Fix Your Kids

The Truth:

“Jason, I want you to take my son to camp and I want him to come home perfect.”

This was an actual statement from a very well intentioned mother. A mother who has gone through a lot with her

children, and this son in particular.

her kids, and who believes in our church’s student ministry.

A mother who loves

But all the same, I can’t make a guarantee that I can fix anybody or anything over a three night winter camp, or a 5 night summer camp, or even 6 years of one-on-one

counseling over coffee. Sure I can try to guide students in the right direction. I can teach them what the Bible says.

I can love and encourage them over and over again.

But I can’t fix anybody.

I don’t mean to be harsh, but parents really are the num-

ber one influence in their kids lives.

dard for the home. Parents discipline and correct wrong behavior. Parents live every day in front of their kids. If parents are dissatisfied with their teenagers decisions and spiritual development, then the burden to change the

Parents set the stan-

course depends on the parents, not on the youth worker, volunteer, or biblical counselor.

And in some situations (and not necessarily the mother mentioned above) it took you 16 years to get your kid where they are, I can’t fix them on a ski trip.

The Hope:

As I already stated, I can’t fix anybody, but I know who can. Jesus! (the Sunday school answer.) He died a brutal, bloody, horrible death on the cross to fix messed up, jacked up, sinful people like you and me and the teenagers that you know. That’s the good news.

When it comes to student ministry, the only hope that we have is Jesus. The only source of encouragement we have is Jesus. The only future that we have is, you guessed it, Jesus. If youth ministry (and ministry in general) ever loses sight of the cross, and put all our hopes in sinful people and their ability to counsel or “fix” people, then we are in serious trouble.

The fact that teenagers need fixing is in many ways a good indicator that the church or ministry is on mission. If you have perfect little church kids running around than you probably are not reaching lost people. In which case what are you doing?

When you have kids that run-away, do drugs, get in fights, swear at their youth pastor, throw rocks through the win- dows, bring weapons to church, or whatever else gives the seniors’ group ulcers, than your ministry is doing some-

thing right. You are attracting people who are far from


physically draining to have these teens in your ministry, but it is the very thing that God has called you to do. Proverbs mentions how bulls make a mess of the barn, but without them you die (my paraphrase). The same princi- ples apply to student ministry. Yeah it’s messy, yeah it smells bad, but it’s a great indicator that you have work to do, and it should give you a reason to get up in the morn- ing.

Yes it may be taxing and emotional, spiritually and

Oh yeah, those perfect little church kids, they are not as perfect as they seem. They have brokenness all their own. But don’t worry, Jesus can fix them too. I realized this af- ter I left the luxurious suburbs east of lake washington and started working in the Seattle city limits. Every teenager needs Jesus, ever person who has ever lived has broken- ness of some sort or another. In the suburbs people are just better at hiding their brokenness. Something about the city people don’t try to hide as much.

So now that we have admitted that we can’t fix kids what

should we do?

have. I thought I went to Bible college to learn how to fix people. I thought I went through that internship to give teenagers and parents six easy steps to family peace and happiness. I read that book, and I went to that seminar for answers, but I only came away with more questions.

Where do we turn, what hope do we

Here’s the bad news, people don’t live in steps. Problems

are not all caused by the same thing and so they don’t all

have the same solution.

go through those 12 principles and get to the end of them

People are unique, and some will

and still have all the same problems, while others will do the 12 steps and find the freedom and transformation that they were looking for. We don’t know who it will work for, and we don’t need to know.

The best way that I know how to help students is to treat them as individuals. I can’t just make blanket statements about all teenagers and say that because this idea worked there, it’s going to work here. Contextualizing your conversations with students requires you to slow down, to take the time to care. It’s hard work. It’s ex- hausting and emotionally draining. Sometimes you can see the fruits of your work almost immediately, other times it can take years.

One of the most beautiful sections in all of the Bible is in John 3 and 4. In these passages we see Jesus dealing with two completely different individuals exactly where they are.


1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nico- demus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." 3In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." 4"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

5Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." 9"How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. 10"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Here in John 3 we see this guy who should really have things figured out (church kid) coming to Jesus in the dark of night. Nick comes with all kinds of questions for Jesus. And Jesus talks to him in a cryptic kind of way. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want Nicodemus to understand but he wants Nicodemus to wrestle with what he knows, what he thinks he knows and what he has yet to know. But this discussion that John captures was initially just for Nicode- mus.

Later on we see that Jesus had a profound effect on Nico- demus and after Jesus died on the cross who was there?

Nicodemus. Nicodemus came with Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus. Some where along the journey Nicodemus’ heart was transformed. Perphaps Nicodemus came be- cause he couldn’t believe that Jesus was really dead. Per- haps he came because he wanted to oversee the burial and ensure that it was handled properly. Or perhaps he came because he wanted to honor the man who had shown him how to be reborn.

Jesus didn’t “fix” Nicodemus. Jesus didn’t set out during that first encounter to give Nicodemus the Six Steps to Second Birth. Jesus began the journey of discovery by sparking questions in Nicodemus’ mind. This is the church kid who thinks he knows everything, but the word of God never penetrated his heart. Church kids need to be chal- lenged. Perhaps the reason that many students leave the church after they graduate from high school is because they never really felt challenged to wrestle with scripture, God and life in General. Maybe.

If you are serving in youth ministry you know these kids. You have seen them, and you love them, and yet they think they are smarter than you, and the truth is they probably are. But it infuriates you because you’re the one who is supposed to have the answers and you are the one who is supposed to give them an easy plan to follow. I was that kid. And you know what made me really fall in love with Jesus? The questions that he kept forcing me to wrestle with. So why not Judo-move these students and give questions that go farther than their own questions.

God is not afraid of your questions. Erwin McManus in the book Soul Cravings reminds us that if we are truly search-

ing for truth, then we will find God. Somewhere along the line the Church has tried to just give answers and our stu- dent ministries are guilty of this as well. We can’t just give answers and force people to memorize these pat answers. We need to teach the church kids and really all our stu- dents to embrace the questions and seek the answers be- cause those who seek will find.

I have a nephew and when he was two years old he con- stantly asked, “What’s this mommy?”. Over and over again he asked this question, and he often asked about stuff that he knew the answer to. So it was kind of infuriating. I can see Jesus having that same kind of feeling to Nicode- mus. Here’s a guy who should really know the answers, but Jesus doesn’t get angry with him. He stops and takes the time to work through the questions.

The questions are important. Discovery is important. Fig- uring things out is important. And Jesus is with us on the Journey. He doesn’t just cut us loose and say, figure it out. He’s with us on the journey. Youth workers need to be willing to go on the Journey with church kids and non- churched kids. We need to be willing to lead students to the answers that they are looking for, even if we feel like we’ve had this same discussion a million times over.

The Woman at the Well

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was

there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) 1Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living wa- ter? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?" Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five hus- bands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusa- lem." Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this moun-

tain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

In this passage Jesus encounters a sinful woman at a well in the middle of the day. This passage has been talked about and preached about, over and over, and many peo- ple have handled it very well.

But as a contrast with the church kid Nicodemus, here we some one who is far from God and actively living in sin. Here we have the very people that Jesus said he came to this world to save.

The woman at the well, who we don’t even have a name for, was shacking up with a man, after having already been divorced from five other men. And the whole town knew it. She lived in constant shame because of her life choices, but she didn’t know any other way. I don’t want to put my own ideas on the text, but as ministers of the gospel we may be aware of all kinds of causes for this kind of behav- ior, molestation, abuse, neglect. All of these things could have caused the woman to look for love in the arms of men who looked at her like an object to bring them pleas- ure. She found meaning in this meaningless existence and

She could deal with the shame as long

as she thought she was loved by someone, as long as she thought someone needed her.

that was enough.

Then along comes this odd Jewish teacher who was travel- ing through Samaria, which was odd enough because as John tells us, Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other. Jesus sent his disciples, his youth group, to go get some sandwiches or something, and he waited by a well.

Along comes this woman, in the middle of the day, the hottest time of the day, to draw water for her and her man friend. She came in the middle of the day because that was when the least amount of people would be there so she would feel the least amount of scorn from her fellow villagers.

There are a few interesting things that occur in this pas- sage. First of all, Jesus engages the woman instead of letting her initiate the conversation. There is a principle here that I think Christ Followers and pastors specifically should take to heart. Are we engaging lost people? Are we going to them? Are we approaching them? Are we asking them questions? Or are we too busy waiting for them to come to us?

If I’m completely honest it’s a lot easier to wait for stu- dents to come to me with their questions, problems, and struggles. But really, shouldn’t I be the one to engage them? As I’m writing this I can think of a few students in my sphere that I should be more engaging with. And I bet you can too.

Another interesting point here is that Jesus is not diverted by her diversions. There is something about speaking the truth that causes us to want to steer away from it. And here Jesus calls this woman on the fact that she is living a sinful life, and she tries to veer off course, but he just keeps on the truth.

Jesus says something this entire dialogue that I think is so vital in our engagement with people who are far but seek- ing. “True Worshippers worship in Spirit and in Truth.” If we are going to be willing to engage lost and hurting peo- ple then we need to do it in Spirit (under the power, confi- dence, and love that only comes from the Spirit of God) and in truth, we need to be willing to have the tough con- versation. We can’t just be ok with people living sinful lives as long as they are filling the seats. We need to be willing to tell the truth, but we can only do it under the power and grace of the Spirit.

In the end of the story she goes and gets the man she is living with, and the whole town listens to Jesus as a prophet.

These two stories I think are crucial for youth workers to hide in their hearts. I don’t think it’s an accident that John records these events so close together. I believe that John was trying to show that Jesus had a deep love for church kids and the tough kids. And we need to be willing con- textualize every conversation we have with students so that we can have the most effective ministry possible.

Many Mentors

What this means is that we cannot possible have these kinds of discussion with every student in our ministries. We need to find people who love students and allow them to have these conversations as well.

You probably won’t do this if you think that you can per- sonally fix students lives. So I hope you have come to a realization that that’s impossible. Start looking for people who can build your ministry of mentoring.

Ideally I would say that if you had one leader for every three students of the same gender then you could really build some depth in your ministry. But the important thing is that you start finding people who are committed to walking through life with students.

Giving up on Fixing Kids

I’m not a very handy person. When something breaks I call someone who knows what they are doing to fix it. There are certain things that I think I can handle only to find that I’ve messed them up even more.

Youth ministry is very similar. We can do somethings ok, we can plan events. We can hang out with students. But we can’t fix them. We need to trust Jesus that he will do the hard work of Changing lives. We need to trust Jesus that he will give us words to say, we need to trust him that he is constantly working on the hearts of the students we are serving.

If we trust Jesus then we can finally find the rest in our ministry that Jesus wants us to have. We need to take up his yoke because he’ll carry the heavy load and guide us along the way. It’s when we are in his yoke that we can (to quote Mark Driscoll) “Work like an arminian and sleep like a calvinist.”