I used to think of being the best youth pastor as if I am feeding a 4 headed monster. Like the huge dog in Harry Potter except with an extra head! Any of these heads could bite you or lick you depending on how much you are feeding them.
However, I’ve come to realize that being a successful youth pastor is more like playing a never-ending version of the balloon game. You know, the balloon game where you have to keep a certain numbers of balloons in the air at all times and the longest time wins. So you are running around the room hitting these things in the air only to notice another one floating slowly to the ground and so you make sure you run over to that one.
If you wanna be one a top-notch youth pastor you obviously need to be right with God and have a personal prayer life that is growing, developing, modeling, and pointing yourself and others towards Christ. BUT I want to focus in this post on the systematic part of the youth pastor JOB. Therefore, I am going to assume the above is already your foundation and to be a top-notch youth pastor beyond that it is to juggle these 4 balloons in the air.
Students – This one comes natural to most youth pastors. They feel called to youth and to help youth grow closer to God. They are contacting, discipling, mentoring, encouraging, counseling, etc. with youth. It is probably the balloon we are best at keeping in the air.
Leaders – This one for some youth pastors is a walk in the park and for others it’s like pulling teeth. You job as a youth pastor is to recruit leaders and then to train your leaders and finally you have to retain your leaders. It’s this ongoing cycle of finding, developing, and maintaining. If you are great at recruiting a leader but can’t develop them, you won’t be able to retain them. If you are great at developing leaders and retaining leaders but can’t recruit them, you may find your youth ministry stuck sooner rather than later.
Parents – More of you stink at this balloon than those of you that are great. We tend to neglect this balloon and sometimes may even play the game without it in the air and pretend it was never part of the game. I hate to tell you this but relationships with parents is part of your job. You need to communicate with them and you need to come alongside them. And the crazy part about working alongside parents- it can actually be really rewarding for you as a person and a youth pastor!
Staff – For those of you in a smaller church, this should be easier. Those that actually have a church office, this should be easier. Staff relations is also part of your job. You aren’t an island, nor should you be. You need to work with your church as part of the larger mission and vision of your church. Communicate with your lead pastor, don’t mess with your finance team, help your secretaries set up the calendar and the bulletin with your youth ministry stuff. It’s all part of the gig.
You get hired as a youth pastor and the balloons get tossed up in the air and the game begins. You have to keep all these balloons in the air. And at no point will all of them be at the ceiling, right when you work hard on one area you may see the other drifting down. You will constantly be adjusting to keep them in the air and that’s just part of the job.
The ineffective youth pastors will burn out and will leave the ministry because keeping these balloons in the air is too much work. OR one of these balloons got you out of the game. The parents decided you weren’t helping them enough, your pastor realized you are an island, the youth won’t come because you don’t relate to them, you have no leaders and thus can’t do anything. 2 years is the average time a youth pastor is at a church and my assumption is it is because of this balloon game. 2 years is probably the amount of time you either can’t keep all the balloons up or the amount of time it takes someone to realize you have been playing but you’re actually out.
The average youth pastors will drop a balloon every now and then (usually the same ones every time) but will quickly correct the problem. They do a decent job.
The really effective youth pastors will be great at keeping all these in the air. There will be times where it gets close to the ground but they kick it up just in time. Maybe they have a sign by their computer that reminds them of these balloons. Maybe they just have the instincts of where all the balloons are and can get there in time. Or who knows how they do it, but they do, and that’s what makes them so effective.
This isn’t a post that should make you busier but more aware and know that it this is all built on the foundation of prayer and your personal walk with God.
Go write these things on 4 balloons and go play in your activity area. Tell your senior pastor it’s your homework. Have fun out there!
Mark Knight is a Children’s and Youth Pastor in Tacoma, WA. He leads a team of directors that cover ministry from birth through young adults. He graduated from Northwest University with a double-major in Youth Ministry and Biblical Studies. Mark is married to his amazing wife, Lindsay, and they are expecting their first child in December.