Just a youth pastor?

Facts and fallacies about youth ministry

Steve Case of Sacramento, California, is president of Piece of the Pie Ministries, an organization dedicated to bringing Adventist youth into the life of the church.

You seem to be effective, so why doesn't the conference pro mote you?"

"When will you become a real pastor?"

"When will you grow up?"

As a youth pastor, some comments I received were complimentary, and some were not. Most feedback, positive and negative alike, failed to regard youth ministry as a profession in its own right and not just a stepping-stone to "greater" responsibilities.

More than a training ground

Many youth pastors indeed are inexperienced interns. Sensing their lack of status in ministerial ranks, some of them eagerly anticipate having a church of their own, or at least being an associate pastor instead of "just a youth pastor." Not surprisingly, there tends to be a high turnover rate with interns, since they are being groomed for "real minis try" and will be "promoted" once they have endured their experiences with youth.

Frequently, pastors who are young automatically are assumed to be effective with youth. In reality, some ministerial interns can't relate well to fellow young adults, much less to teenagers. To place a person in youth ministry on the basis of age results in young people training pastors rather than pastors serving young people.

Why must our youth systematically receive inexperienced pastors who must learn by trial and error? Interns assigned to work with young people should receive specialized training. In fact, I believe they should work under the supervision of a youth ministry professional rather than under a senior pastor who can only groom them for conventional ministry.

For youth ministry to be regarded as a profession rather than just a stepping stone, we must dispense with the myth that a pastor becomes disqualified for it at the age of 30. The way a pastor relates to young people might change as he or she grows older, but that doesn't necessarily diminish the capacity for youth ministry.

Nurturing youth pastors

Workers' meetings, which are geared primarily for conventional pastors, seldom meet the needs of youth pastors. A few conferences have enough youth pas tors to call together for supplemental workers' meetings. Most conferences, and even some unions, do not. In such situations, youth pastors can attend nondenominational youth ministry conventions (such as the Youth Specialties national convention, Group's Youth Ministry University, etc.).

In 1987 the North American Division Church Ministries convention included youth pastors as a special focus group. Only three pastors participated. The following year, 12 did. They drafted a mission statement and affirmed the need for continuing the group for professional enrichment. In 1989 the group increased to 17. Attendees changed the term "youth pastor" to "youth ministry professional" to include campus chaplains, Bible teachers, academy deans, principals, and even departmental youth ministry specialists. They initiated a bimonthly newsletter, UTH MIN.

Because the North American Division Church Ministries convention did not take place in 1990 because of the General Conference session, the youth ministry professionals that year voted to have their own convention. More than 50 attended the event at Leoni Meadows Camp in northern California, marking the first time Adventist youth ministry professionals on the local level were the primary presenters at a convention geared specifically for their needs. Conference, union, and division youth specialists functioned as facilitators for debriefing sessions. Academic credit from Andrews University was available.

Educational developments

For years, experience served as the sole vehicle in the Adventist Church for youth ministry training. Recently, formal education in youth ministry became available on a significant basis. In 1985 the seminary at Andrews University hired its first full-time youth ministry professor. The doctor of ministry program now contains a youth ministry class as part of its core, and a number of doctoral candidates already have chosen a youth ministry emphasis for their projects/dissertations. In 1988 Andrews University began a youth ministry track for under graduates majoring in theology. La Sierra University now offers a master's degree with a focus on youth ministry. Oakwood College also offers specialized training in youth evangelism.

The increasing youth ministry emphasis around the North American Division has spawned the Association of Adventist Youth Ministry Professionals, based at Andrews University. With funding from the North American Division Church Ministries Department, the association has developed books, tapes, training seminars, a newsletter, consultation services, and a computer bulletin board of program ideas. Working in coordination with the association is the John Hancock Center for Youth Minis try, located in California at La Sierra University.

Cutting edge

The whole church can benefit from attention to youth ministry. Since new trends in society usually begin with the youth, conventional pastors might enhance both nurture and evangelism by seeking input from youth pastors. The pastor of a rapidly growing Adventist congregation told me that although he had been trained in youth ministry, he now uses that specialized training to serve the church family at large. He attributes a significant portion of congregational growth to his youth ministry methodology.

How much emphasis will local churches, pastors, administrators, colleges, and seminary curricula give to youth ministry? The answer is vital to the life and health of the Adventist Church.

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Steve Case of Sacramento, California, is president of Piece of the Pie Ministries, an organization dedicated to bringing Adventist youth into the life of the church.

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