“Don’t Underestimate Me” – The Youth of UMC’s

Today I met with the Board to learn why my papers failed. I won’t go into details, but it’s basically what I thought. I wasn’t clear on some issues, I wasn’t consistent and so forth. All good pointers. And I took all of them to heart and am ready for the next time.

However, something came up in the conversation that came up during my district interviews, my provisional interviews, and I guarantee you, it will come up if I get interviewed next year. And I told the members who were there that I will fight them tooth and nail on this issue.
What’s the issue?
That my experience in only youth ministry may prevent me from understanding all that may come being an elder in the UMC.
Excuse me? Really?
For this reason, I believe this furthers my belief that the pastors and leaders of UMC are mistaken about youth ministry.
And for all the talk about how we need to reach younger people and so forth… what better way to do that through the youth ministry at your local churches?

I think the issue here is that many of the people in charge in our denomination still buy in to the “Entertainment Model” youth ministry. Like I’ve heard before and preaching ever since “when you entertain kids to the kingdom, you have to entertain them to keep them there.” And with the pace of entertainment and the shortening of attention span, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep our kids entertained. Entertainment has preceded the need for discipleship.

Or people may still view the style of youth ministry that I called the “rotating” youth ministry from the 80’s. One week it’s game. The next week it’s community service project. The next week is an outing. The following week is a worship/study. And repeat.

I’ve been around youth ministry for about 10 years, 7 years as a paid person to do so.
And here’s the deal:
The needs of youth are the same as the needs of everyone else in your congregation. Everyone wants to be needed. Everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to be relevant. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to heard. It’s a bit magnified in the youth culture. But then, it’s magnified in the elderly also. So, if I were to serve only elderly people, would the powers to be question my lack of experience in other areas of ministry? I don’t really think so.

I believe that you grow the youth ministry the same way you would grow a church: with vision and with mission.
As Rick Warren said, a great commitment to the Great Commandment and Great Commission will make a great church. I believe every word of that applies to the youth ministry.
The Great Commandment and Commission covers the basics of every ministry:
Worship: Love the Lord
Ministry: Love your neighbor
Evangelism: Go and make disciples
Fellowship: Baptizing them
Discipleship: Teach them to obey (from Purpose Driven Youth Ministry).

And small groups play just as a crucial role in spiritual growth with youth ministry as well.

The fact that I have heard “we are concerned that your time is only spent in youth ministry” leads me to conclude that those people do not think highly of youth ministry or that youth ministry is not a “real” ministry.
I think it’s awesome that I, as one on the elder track, will serve the youth, and together serve our community.
And I believe that those comments are undermining and underestimating our youth, which local churches do very often. They often think the youth can’t handle the Gospel or a bible study, so instead, let’s just play games so they’ll keep coming.
Which isn’t that surprising, considering many local UMC’s lower the bar of discipleship for the sake of membership.
Let it be known: God uses young people to change the world. Do I have to go through the list of Biblical characters? Let’s just say Mary. I mean, all she did was bear God into this world…

I’ve had this thought ingrained into my heart recently.
We have coaches for churches here in the Cal-Pac. But those coaches focus on the overall growth of the church.
I think that having a youth consultant will be helpful for the Church. I’ve seen big, healthy and growing adult churches without strong youth ministries. But I haven’t seen a church not grow when their youth ministry is strong and healthy.
I know that I don’t have all the answers, but I do know I have accumulated enough knowledge and experience to help a church, at least, steer the boat in the right direction when it comes to the youth ministry.
I’m moving to a new district soon, and I really want to explore this option of being a youth consultant for the churches within the district, while doing ministry at my new appointment. Who knows, maybe we’ll get enough people for each district to ReThink youth ministry. We desperately need to.

Far too many churches have put entertainment over discipleship.
Far too many churches have underestimated and undermined the youth and what they can accomplish when God lights a fire in their heart.
You want a revival within the Cal-Pac? Why not start with the youth? They’ll rock this world in the name of God, given a chance. Forget this “leaders of tomorrow” crap. Tomorrow may never come. They’re ready and willing. But instead of equipping and empowering them, we’re thinking all they can handle is a game of manhunt.

And we wonder why they never come back to church when they leave for college…

14 thoughts on ““Don’t Underestimate Me” – The Youth of UMC’s

  1. Joseph, welcome to the world of elder snobbery. While I agree with you in every aspect about the misunderstandings of youth ministry, what I find is that elders often look down their noses at anyone involved in ministry that doesn’t involve serving as the “pastor-in-charge” of a local congregation. And unfortunately, this becomes more of a case in conferences where there are more candidates than congregations, often leading to a self-preservation factor leading to unrealistically tough standards.

    You are right in that many pastor’s don’t understand youth discipleship for they really don’t understand the task of discipleship for folks of any age. True discipleship doesn’t mesh well with institutional survival, and unfortunately we have a system which rewards survival over innovation.

    Sorry for this setback, and know that you ARE called to serve the church.

  2. “ugh” to such narrow thinking! What I love about this post is that you don’t let their limited view get you down but look to the ways that you will fight and seek to serve God and use the passion for youth that has called you this far. Blessings on you and prayers for your journey ahead!

  3. Joseph,
    as one who was continued under many of the same pretenses, I would be glad to talk with you.
    Know that you are in my prayers, and I appreciated your ministry, with our youth, with our adults, and living for the future of the church.

  4. I hear you about the overall disrespect in many church circles for youth and youth ministers. You have an important message for the church and the world–keep that up. And you’re right, many churches would benefit from a consult on youth. Further, I think it’s critical that people like you who understand about kids and the vital role they play in the life of the church and the transformation of the world be “the lead pastors” and not “just” youth ministers.

    All that said, perhaps the committee is concerned about your inexperience in some of the duties required of an elder. Sacraments of Communion, Baptism? Weddings? Funerals? Hospital visitation, counseling with adults… While you listed many areas where your experience is relevant and valuable, I can imagine lots of things you’d never do as a youth pastor that you’d be needed to do as an elder appointed to another role. I don’t know your training or specific situation, but you might consider the perspective of your inquisitors, as well.

    1. Jen –
      What bothers me is this:
      I don’t see that much difference in the elderly community and the youth community. the needs are the same. the fears of not being heard, or being ignored are strong within their hearts.
      But, if I had spent the last 10 years serving those who are 75 and above… I don’t think they’d raise “concerns” about my “inexperience.” And when it comes to funerals, it’s arguable that more pastoral counseling and the understanding of God’s grace and healing and presence may be more needed in the situation of a youth passing than an elderly passing.

      I do understand where they are coming from, but I feel that they are TOO concerned with my time with youth that they don’t take a time to look at me and my resume.
      I’ve done funerals (once for a 12 year old), I’ve done baptisms, I haven’t done weddings… though
      Communion, I have the privilege to lead. How much more meaningful when I get to lead communion for the youth instead of having youth dragged into the big church to join in?
      Hospital visits? I wish there weren’t so many…

      I apologize if I come off sounding arrogant, but what I’m trying to say is, I do have experience in all those areas of Word, Order and Sacraments, but I feel like, sometimes, that the powers to be can’t get over the fact that a lot of my time is spent with youth. So rather than asking, they pass on their concerns…

      oops. sorry for the long reply, and thank you and all for your comments

      1. Joseph,

        I’ll apologize in advance if my reply seems offensive. As a fellow candidate for ministry, I feel for you as only a candidate can. As a former youth worker, I can appreciate your situation. Your passion is obviously not in question.

        But let me start by saying that yes, I do believe you are being arrogant. You presume to believe that your experience is sufficient to overcome the difficulties that ordained ministry presents. Unfortunately, the final word comes from the Board, and they clearly have an agenda. It is up to us to uncover that agenda and work toward it.

        Have you considered that your very problem could be that you don’t see a difference between your experience in youth ministry and ministry in general? Consider your position in the business world (and please, don’t bear down on me for making that connection) – if you wanted to gain a given position, an employer is going to want to know how diverse your skill set is, and that’s not yours to decide.

        Please take their recommendations to heart and get ready for next time. Your passion is exactly what this church needs right now, but that can’t happen if you want to “fight tooth and nail.” Plenty of time to save to save the church later.

  5. While I agree that youth ministry is often undervalued and misunderstood, I have to agree with Jen in that I think you miss the point that BOOM is trying to make.

    First off, I know of folks who have be questioned, have had concerns raised, and even continued for “serving only 75 and older”. It has happened and will continue to happen.
    I spent part of my interviews 2 years ago talking/explaining/showing how even though I am in a very specific ministry (children and theater) I branch out into other areas of ministry (and I am a deacon…the order in which you are expected to “specialize” lol).

    I think the concern is not that youth do not count as “real church members” or that this focus on this kind of ministry does not count. The issue is: do you have a broad enough experience to meet the diversity of needs that exist outside the one “style” of ministry you are currently in. It is not that you don’t the same types of thing in youth ministry that you would in “general church” ministry.

    The question is: Can you translate the very specific ministry you do into broader terms.

    It seems you would be better served explaining to BOOM what you did in your last response…about your experience to minister to ALL people rather than try to explain why your specific age level ministry is valid to all age groups.

    For whatever reason, they aren’t getting that from you. Maybe they are not looking closely enough at your resume or need you to be extremely blatant in you explanation of ALL you do.

    1. Hi Camille!!

      I think, I’m blowing this out of proportions more than they have. It was just a concern that they had brought up.

      Although, I’d like to ask if the elders today had a broad enough experience to meet the diversity of needs that are facing our society and culture today.

      But, I think you’re dead-on in that I need to have them be aware that I am experienced in other areas, but rather choose to spend my time with youth ministry and helping them serve God and the church the best we can.

      Praying for Andy, btw.

  6. Lem – None taken =)
    Please note that I had a great conversation with the Board. And they really helped me prepare for the next time I write my papers.

    This was just a side comment that they made, and I replied by saying a shorter version of what I said here.

    I just want to bring awareness that youth ministry goes deeper than games and entertainment and fellowship. Or that it should.

    1. Absolutely. 100% agree with you here…I haven’t explored this blog further, but now I’m itching to know: how do we turn this entertainment mindset around? Or is that the goal. I’ve been wrestling with this myself, and is one of the main reasons I got out of youth work.

  7. This seems to have happened in the bible as well hence Paul telling Timothy not to let others look down on you because you’re young (implying that they will look down on because you’re young). I think this drive of yours about the youth doesn’t negate you from being a pastor overall, but rather a more specific calling. You see the need and have the “equipment” or rather the drive to be equipped in this area. I think God’s just showing you which part of the body of Christ you belong to, but i will agree on one thing, the youth get very little credit nowadays. That’s probably the reason why when anyone sees our church, they’re always amazed at such young guys “devoting themselves to the public reading of scripture.”

    It’s an interesting thing to see human thinking about how the kids are too young to really devote themselves to the Lord… i mean i’ll be honest, i thought the same way up until i started seeing what God was doing here. The church community probably thinks the same hence the “entertainment value” as you say often… (first thing that i thought of was Hillsong’s Desperate people “We didn’t come to leave here entertained.”) but i started seeing something more and more as truth as i started walking with God. God shows absolutely no favoritism (..well God said it so i guess it’s true whether i believe/see it or not) and the way he’s progressed some of our youth is amazing…like..amazing.

    I dont know… everything is important, but there’s a reason why God calls His church a body of different systems. Each person in the church is meant to emphasize a certain part of the body..and again, yours may be youth. fun. haha.

  8. Hi Joseph,

    Great post! As a former candidate (and future one) that kept getting continued until time ran out, I completely understand your anger with the Board. And I REALLY understand how side comments can cause you to focus on criticisms of ignorant people, but don’t let it deter you from what God has called you to be and do.

    As a former youth pastor for a decade and a local pastor under appointment for 13 years, it irks me sometimes that being a paid youth pastor seems not to count for some colleagues. Those times will always be invaluable in my ministry to the whole church…yes even ministering to those elders who continued me.

    At the same time, I cheer your continued experience with ministry in the whole church so that God will pour from you the deep, deep love of Jesus and cause the community of faith to be a well of living water. May God continue to bless you and your ministry!

    1. I obviously made a huge mistake.
      I’m not angry with the Board AT ALL!
      I was very humbled and acceptive of their words and their suggestions when I start round 2.

      But thank you for your words!!

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