I don’t think that all churches should hire a vocational youth minister.
I’m not talking about whether churches can afford to hire one or not. Some churches that can shouldn’t, and yes, I realize given my history of being of vocational youth minister that this probably sounds strange.
The church in America has a big problem regardless of denomination. In general, most churches are missing at least their 18 to 30-somethings, and in reality, it’s more like 16 to 40-somethings. Our youth start leaving when they can drive, and something is seriously wrong with this picture.
Now some of you may be in a church with healthy youth ministries and lots of young people which is great, but unfortunately for the church as a whole, your church is the exception to the rule. And even in your church you can probable see a decline from early children’s ministry, to junior high ministry, with a major decline in high school ministry, or at least in the percentage’s of junior’s and senior’s that you still have.
I’ve been asked by several churches who have noticed this trend if they should hire a vocational youth minister, and seen even more churches run out an hire a vocational youth minister, assuming that will somehow “fix” the problem and automatically start bringing those elusive “young people” into the church.
After all, young people are the future of the church right?
Well, if you’ve read this blog before you’ve heard me talk about how young people are only the future of the church in the sense that without them the church will literally die of old age, but they are also the present of the church, and all too often we forget that.
And so we throw a vocational youth minister at the problem, and go “whew, so glad the youth are taken care of.”
Several problems with this, one, the youth aren’t being actually valued by the church in the sense that the church isn’t giving of their time, only of part of the budget. And while funding is important, it’s not everything. Think about when you were a kid, would you rather have had money from your parents, or time with your parents? Would you rather have spent time with the greatest, most fun baby-sitter in the world, or have your parents actually “invest” time in you?
Now I’m not equating vocational youth ministry to baby-sitting, but the reality is that one youth minister cannot do the job of Christian formation and discipleship for these young people. A vocational youth minister’s primary role should be to mentor adult leaders who can then in turn disciple and mentor the youth. Then the youth will have a connection with the church as a whole, and one part of integrating our youth into the church as a whole will be put in place. (More on this later).
So, then the double-edged sword of vocational youth ministry is that if churches are too quick to hire without having first embraced their youth ministry as a congregation, they end up abdicating the responsibility to that youth minister. The other edge is that with the responsibility pushed to the side, the youth minister is suddenly not as essential as they were, and their position is the first to get cut in a budget crises. This is ironic really, given the fears I hear frequently expressed about the health of the church without young people.