The under 25 youth pastor

I want to get my youth ministry and church leadership audience to chime in on something, if you will. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Mark Riddle‘s new book Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader’s Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors. I’m writing a review of the book for YMX, and Mark has graciously agreed to answer a slew of questions I sent him and make this humble blog a stop on his blog book tour.

I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the book’s shortest chapters (12), which addresses the elongation of adolescence and the resulting effect that should have on youth pastor hiring decisions. I asked Mark about it so we will eventually hear his input on this question when the blog tour interview appears.

Let me set the stage a bit. Mark, in Inside the Mind, cites research by Dr. Jeffery Arnett (Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties) which makes a compelling case that, developmentally, the years from 18 to 25 should be considered late adolescence. The characteristics of this developmental stage, Mark argues, should be carefully considered in choosing to hire someone from this cohort as a spiritual leader for those in earlier stages of adolescence.

From Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors, Ch 12, p 82:

If, however, you choose to hire an emerging adult to lead your youth ministry, you must give significant attention to mentoring that person in leadership and discipleship.  Teenagers need their youth pastors to have a strong sense of who they are, based on life experiences.  They need youth pastors who have a sense of stability in their identities.

Certainly there are men and women in their early to mid-20s who fit the bill, but they are few and far between.  Church leaders need to dispel the myth that younger is better for youth ministry leadership.  It’s simply not true.  In fact, entrusting spiritual leadership of your teenage children to someone who’s still working through the five characteristics [of late adolescence] listed earlier [in the chapter] is irresponsible.

While there is a lot of that which makes good sense to me – considering that car insurance and rental companies have considered this age group less capable of responsible decision-making and judgment in general, and have run their businesses accordingly for, well, ever.  That doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of youth pastors/minister/directors I have ever had contact with got their start in youth ministry as volunteers or staff as young adults in their early 20s.

So, I’m wondering what you think about this.  And, if you agree, what are your constructive ideas for ways to bridge the time from the end of college to age 25 for those who have earned ministry degrees, but are not yet “adults” by this developmental measure?

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12 Responses to “The under 25 youth pastor”

  1. Andy Mihail
    February 24, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    I was asked to serve as a youth pastor after I got married, at the age of 26.
    I have to say, youth ministry ain’t easy, and a youth pastor that is too young and doesn’t have experience might be overwhelmed if he really wants to achieve something, or, in the other case, he may take things to easy, which is wrong.
    From my experience, I can say that a closed supervision and collaboration with the Senior Pastor is needed in order to have a healthy ministry.

  2. Michelle
    February 24, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    One hates to generalize, of course. Nevertheless, a church should think hard before hiring a nineteen-year-old college kid to lead their youth group.

    And said church should think REAL hard, when that college kid resigns a year and a half later from complete burnout and emotional meltdown, before hiring an eighteen-year-old to replace her.

    And whatever the age, maturity, and educational status of the youth minister, they’re going to need support and involvement from the church. Support that goes beyond “Hey, how’s it going down there in the basement? Let me buy you all a pizza one of these days.”

    Pardon my bitterness. I wasn’t that nineteen-year-old kid or anything.

  3. Michelle
    February 24, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    P.S. None of this should be taken as disparaging involvement by younger people on a volunteer or assistant sort of level. There is a huge difference between helping and leading.

  4. patti
    February 24, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    @andy – thanks for sharing your experience and ideas.

    @michelle – I actually thought of “that nineteen-year-old kid” you mentioned, in addition to a few others dear to me, when I read some of the parts of this book. You make good points, and I agree with you on each of them.

  5. Michael Rich
    February 24, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    I got my first job in youth ministry as a 17 year old. Truly a silly thing for a church to do. I worked in churches with youth for the next 3 years without major incident. i am thankful for the experience, but I was not prepared for all that the job entailed.

    In my 30’s, when I was doing youth ministry in a local church (a little more prepared then), I discovered that my best volunteers and my most committed youth leaders were older, wiser folk I had a 60 year old that was incredible). I still kept some college aged folks around the team…but I learned that the youth actually preferred my older team members, and the older team members were the most effective leaders.

    Go figure.

  6. Jasper Rains
    February 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    I find a lot of wisdom in what Mark has to say. I think that as I get older I realize how much wisdom and spiritual maturity come with age. I think churches are short sighted to advertise wanting a person in their 20s for a position. There is so much growth that happened in my life after my 25th birthday. I know that I began to understand consequences better. I began to understand parents better. I was slower to anger. I was better with people.

    That being said, I also feel that a lot of that growth came from the five years of student ministry I had put in by my 25th birthday. Some of that knowledge came from DOING ministry all that time. still, I wonder if some of those lessons would have been better learned as a small group or volunteer leader under a more experienced youth pastor.

    I think far too often in our line of work youth wins over experience. I think the tide is turning as more and more of us are in student ministry for the long haul. As we take student ministry to be more than just a stepping stone into other areas of service in church life, I think more churches will embrace experience and age over energy and youthfulness.

  7. Julie Mann
    February 24, 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    As a person who came to know the Lord later in life, I can tell you that simple maturity didn’t start setting in until I was 25, let alone spiritual maturity. I was 25 when I decided it was time to get a life, even as a non-Christian! But as to spiritual maturity, that also goes to leading youth later in life. I was 30 when I started attending an evening Bible Study as my entry into walking the walk as a born again Christian. I started attending the church we met in shortly thereafter. It wasn’t long before the pastor asked me to lead the youth. Heck, I didn’t even know much about the spiritual walk myself, and he wanted me to lead others. Although, at the time, I was probably one of the few with a spiritual walk, if you know what I mean. But I certainly wasn’t ready to lead, even though I was older! I did it and we all learned together, but the issue of spiritual maturity needs to be addressed as well in the hiring of Youth Leadership. And I’m DEFINITELY in the boat with having youth as student leaders to start their ministry walk. We should never squash an opportunity to serve in some way!

  8. patti
    February 25, 2009 at 8:00 am #

    I see that there’s consensus about a YP being a bit older than has been the tradition.

    I see that there’s a sense that “emerging adults” as the quote calls them (not emerging church… different emerging altogether) should be ministered to, developed in their leadership, and so on, before being entrusted with the reigns solo.

    I hear that, and I don’t disagree with that necessarily – for any formal pastoral role (not just YP). In fact, I think a similar argument could be made for a great many jobs, not just in the church. I also think that believers are not to discriminate by age alone (1 Tim 4:12), leaving room for taking this on a case by case basis.

    That said, I’m still wondering what we do with/for 18-25 year olds, in a real, practical, equip them for ministry sense. The “old way” of youth ministry has produced a system of more education for vocational youth ministry – I think that’s a good thing. However, we’re now turning out college educated 22-year-olds with youth ministry on their minds and hearts – and student loans and, perhaps, even dependents. And, there’s no real way to “employ” them in that in-between stage, that I’ve seen.

    So what COULD we do?

  9. jeff greathouse
    February 25, 2009 at 8:26 am #

    For the “professional” ministry, I believe that we need to go more “in-depth”. We need to have internships, fellowships and residencies and then “launch” them into ft ministry.

  10. Scott Franciscus
    February 25, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    Each age group faces different experiences and has different needs in their faith journey. However, when we break them up and attempt to minister to them solely based on their age bracket, I cannot help but think that we are doing a disservice to them. Our Christian faith is not one of isolation, but designed for community. As such, we should minister as a community.

    Often the question is raised, what do we do with the post-youth group age group. My question is, why have they not been integrated into the ministry of the church so there is a seamless transition from post youth group?

    Let also be honest, not everyone is called into the ministry be it senior pastor or youth pastor, or any other host of specializations we have created. Perhaps our churches and our colleges should be doing more to help is the discernment process, rather than churning out graduates in their 20s looking for a job in youth ministry?

  11. Lisa
    February 25, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    I agree with Scott. Developing leaders while they are still in youth group and then mentoring them under more mature leadership (while still allowing them to minister with their gifts) is a splendid way to go.


  1. » Blog Archive » Blog Tour: Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors by Mark Riddle - April 9, 2009

    […] One of the “big ideas” that struck me from Inside the Mind was Mark’s brief discussion of the optimal age of a youth pastor.  You can see that previous discussion here. […]

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