Friday, March 12, 2010

Youth Pastor Advice

Dr. Awesome,

I am a youth minister and have been for about 8 years now. I am trying to help our guy students become godly men, like you are. What are some recommendations you have to help achieve this?

fighting the good fight,



I appreciate the compliment, though I'm not sure I'd call myself especially godly. Having seven PhDs somehow doesn't help me with being a better person, as far as character goes. Somebody more wise than I am once said that he can't help but do the things he doesn't want to do, and not do the things he does want to do. It's as if human nature is self-destructive, regardless of how much we know. So while I appreciate you calling me godly and asking for my opinion, I assure you, I'm just a pilgrim on the road to the Celestial City, like all the rest.

That said, I'm all about seeing young men grow up to be the next generation of Christians. I think that's a large part of the calling of all keep raising up the next generation of godly men to replace them, until the Lord returns. So maybe I can offer up a few ideas, some immediately practical, some a little more abstract.

The first thing I'd tell a young man, at least one in junior high or high school, is to forget about girls. I know that's like telling the wind not to blow. But there's really nothing good that comes from guys and girls getting overly friendly, especially when they are young and even more prone to bad decisions. Think about it...if a guy and girl are dating, and they have no intention of getting married, what are they really doing? Wasting time, at best, and at worst, subjecting themselves to prolonged periods of increasing temptation. I've heard arguments in favor of teenagers dating, such as guys and girls learning how to interact, what their boundaries are, how to flee temptation, etc. But I think all those lessons can be learned in other ways, ways that aren't so dangerous. Trying to learn those lessons within the context of a relationship is like trying to learn fire safety in a dynamite factory. Emotions and hormones are a powerful combination, and many a well-intentioned man has gotten into trouble. Imagine how refreshing it would be if a generation of young men came along that valued their purity and guarded their hearts? Not to mention how protecting themselves also protects women, including their future spouses! I think you should sit down and explain to the young men why it is best if they wait to pursue women until they are older, and in the meantime put forth some effort towards becoming the types of men who can be husbands and dads and leaders. You aren't depriving them of dating girls, but challenging them to something better.

I'd also try to teach young men the importance of vocation. Somewhere along the way we got this idea that you aren't "really" serving God unless you are a pastor or a missionary or something like that. But that's not true. God wants future generations of pastors and missionaries, no doubt...but He also wants future generations of doctors, lawyers (yes, lawyers), engineers, crane operators, janitors, soldiers, artists, ninjas, whatever. I'd encourage young men to work hard at finding something they love to do, and then pursuing that like they are working for the Lord. Because actually, they are. One of the cool ideas to come out of the Reformation was the idea that all work is God's work, from delivering sermons to scrubbing toilets. Whatever career they decide to pursue, I'd tell the fellas that it's not just something they have to endure so they get to have fun on the weekends. It's a vocational calling that honors the Lord. So I think it is important to relay to these guys that whatever they settle on, they should give it all they've got, because they're on a mission from God.

Third, moving from the practical to the slightly more abstract, I'd give these kids some heavy things. By that, I mean I'd do away with any kind of lesson that is "seven steps to a better life" and give them some real spiritual meat to chew on. Give them some theology, philosophy, and so on, and take them deep. Whatever their denominational tradition is, I'd catechise them with its distinctives. Teach them what we believe and why we believe it. Cotton candy spirituality is ok sometimes, because there are nice little tidy lessons to be learned that can be practical. But to press the metaphor, if they've been fed a steady diet of cotton candy, they will grow up malnourished, and they won't be fit enough to fight when their faith gets challenged. If I might be totally blunt, every time I see someone teaching something along the lines of "Finding God in 'Finding Nemo'" it makes me sick. That kind of stuff is like the little pig building his house out of will not stand when the big bad wolf huffs and puffs. You have to build your house out of bricks, bricks cast in the deep, hot furnaces of the faith once delivered to the saints.

Next, as a youth minister, I'd not only focus on the young men directly under my care. I'd go after their dads. As great as youth ministers are, as valuable as the work is that they do, it absolutely cannot compare with the effects that their dads will have on these men. For better of for worse, every dad directly impacts every child in a huge way, even if that impact is because the dad was never around. You want to light a fire in these young men? Get their dads. You get these kids a few hours each week. Their dads get them every day. So soak their dads with the gospel, and that will be your best legacy as a pastor to youth.

And for my last point, I mentioned it in the last paragraph. Whether talking to the young men or to their grown up dads, I'd give them the gospel. They don't need more rules, more dos and don'ts. They need Jesus. They need to know He lived, He died, He rose. They need to know He paid the ransom for them, He atoned for their sins and satisfied God's requirements for justice, He defeated all the powers of death and evil, He adopted them as His children. They need to know that they ought to live for Jesus, not because it earns them His favor, but because they're in His family and He wants them to become what they already are. Grace. Marvelous, matchless, intoxicating, world-changing grace. Above all else, that's what I'd strive to give them, every single day.

I don't know if you were expecting something a little more light-hearted than that, but you caught me on a day where I'm thinking a lot about my role as a dad. I only have small children myself, but even now I need to be modeling for them what it looks like to walk humbled and gracious with my Savior. And what I want from a youth pastor is support in all that, since obviously we want the same thing: a new generation of Christians, drunk with Jesus, changing the world. I remain convinced that the gospel is the only thing that has power to accomplish that goal. So please, if you want godly young men, give them the gospel.

Dr Awesome


Julie March 12, 2010 at 9:54 AM  

Dr. Awesom...

I stumbled on your blog by clicking the "next blog" button on my Blogger toolbar. I'm all about never missing an opportunity when it comes to raising up our youth so I wanted to take a sec to introduce you to the ministry I am so grateful to be a part of on a daily basis. It is called Anchorsaway and we are dedicated to teaching senior high school students how to live out their faith and be able to defend it when they go off to college so that they don't walk away from it. If you get a chance, please check out our website for more information.

Dr Awesome March 12, 2010 at 12:27 PM  

Hi Julie...thanks for stopping by. I checked out your website, and it looks like what y'all are up to is pretty neat, not to mention very important. I pray that God continues to bless your efforts.

mmcreel March 12, 2010 at 1:39 PM  

You earned your moniker today Dr. Awesome! Great words of avdice on a very relevant and important topic.

Tuiny March 12, 2010 at 3:27 PM  

Dr. Awesome,
Your comments have resonated with me in a big way. Although I might have some differing ideas on some things, my respect for you grows with every post you leave. Thanks for being a strong voice in a weak world.

iohannes fac totum March 12, 2010 at 5:48 PM  

"Trying to learn those lessons within the context of a relationship is like trying to learn fire safety in a dynamite factory."

Excellent Post, Doc. I'm linking to this from fakebook.

Tam March 14, 2010 at 3:58 PM  

I linked this one on facebook too, great perspective and well said.

Mike March 19, 2010 at 5:43 PM  

As a Youth Pastor, I am totally down with this post, excellent points! Thank you for not being reserved about the truth and power of the Gospel!

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