Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader's Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors

Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader's Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors

by Mark Riddle

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The teens in your church are impacting their world today and they’ll be the leaders of tomorrow. As a leader in your church, you understand the importance of an effective youth ministry. But it’s not as easy as simply putting a person in charge of the youth ministry in your church. Some of the most important steps in building a sustainable youth ministry happen even before you begin looking for a youth pastor. And once you have a person in place, there are several key things you can do to help develop a healthy student ministry that includes encouraging your youth pastor, engaging teens, and involving parents. In this practical book for church leaders, you’ll: • Set goals for your student ministry that inform your search for a youth pastor. • Facilitate communication with your entire church ministry staff by using the included discussion guide. • Discover how to implement a ministry that supports families and their involvement in the youth ministry. Whether you already have a youth pastor or are just beginning your search, this book will help you set up your student ministry and youth pastor for health and longevity. Make sure you understand what’s going on inside the mind of your youth pastor—whether he or she is a veteran, a volunteer, or an inexperienced new pastor—so that together, you can create a life-changing student ministry that reaches teens and draws them to Jesus.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310577096
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 08/30/2009
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Mark Riddle is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and owner of the Riddle Group, a ministry coaching and consulting firm committed to making life better for senior pastors, youth pastors, volunteers, parents and teens. With more than 15 years experience in vocational ministry, Mark collaborates with local church leaders to promote and develop sustainable ministries that impact youth and their families. Mark lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his wife, Pam, and their three kids, Zachery, Jaden, and Mikayla.

Read an Excerpt

Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors

A Church Leader's Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors

By Mark Riddle
Copyright © 2009

Mark Riddle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-28365-2


I talk to a lot of church leaders every year. Very few are able to articulate why their churches have youth ministries in our first conversation. Every leader has an answer when I ask, but precious few have answers with substance or meaning. The answers range from "We want to make fully devoted followers of Christ" to whatever comes to the leader's mind at that moment.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the lives of teenagers? If your church can't articulate why it has a youth ministry, what are you hiring a youth pastor to do?

Sadly, since most churches can't articulate why they have a youth ministry, the average youth pastor ends up running a bunch of programs that may or may not accomplish what the church is hoping for.

Let's take a look at some of the most popular responses to the question, "Why do you want to hire a youth pastor?"


It's encouraging that you and your church are eager to reach teenagers. Chances are, you want to connect with the kids in your church and the kids in the community who have yet to attend your church. It's a solid ambition for a church, but it's not an adequate answer to the question, "Why do you want to hire a youth pastor?"

Churches don't need a youth pastor to reach kids. Churches of all shapes and sizes reach kids every week in innovative ways without a paid youth pastor on staff. If your church equates reaching kids with hiring a youth pastor, something's wrong. Don't give up on reaching kids. But let's explore other, healthier reasons to hire a youth pastor.


To be direct, there aren't enough senior pastors who really want to make a difference in teenagers' lives. So this is an exciting response to hear as a consultant. Unfortunately, though, as an answer to our question, it falls way short. There are thousands of people making a difference in the lives of teenagers-and most of them aren't youth pastors. More pointedly, there are plenty of churches making a substantive difference in the lives of teenagers-without a paid youth staff. If your church feels it needs a youth pastor in order to make a difference in the lives of young people, something's wrong.


The old joke about you working one hour a week-on Sunday morning-isn't funny. The truth is, you have too much on your plate already. There aren't enough hours in the day to add another responsibility-especially something so involved and time consuming as youth ministry. Hiring a youth pastor would immediately take that weight from your shoulders. With so much to do in the church, certainly this is one thing you can hand off to a staff person. Right?

Let's be clear. There's no more difficult job in the church than yours. Your job is more emotionally demanding than most of the people who sit in your congregation will ever know. But hiring a youth pastor for this reason is a very bad idea, one that will hurt you and your church in the long run. (We'll tackle this topic in more detail in chapter 4.)

Don't let today's quick solutions cause tomorrow's long-term problems. Hiring a youth pastor because you're too busy can cause systemic problems that can take your church years to resolve.


That seems to be the case, doesn't it? The last 20 years have seen an amazing increase in the population of professional youth ministers. Today it's normal for new church plants to almost immediately hire a youth pastor. While strategically it's probably not the best call for many churches, it is the norm.

If all the other churches were jumping of a cliff, would you? (I'm only sort of joking.) Believe it or not, there are churches that don't have youth pastors, yet are able to minister to youth in tremendous ways. They're able to maintain healthy and growing youth ministries. Conversely, there are churches with full-time staff members who aren't able to connect with young people or their parents. Simply hiring a youth pastor because it's assumed you need one is not a good impetus for staffing.


The pressure from parents on church leaders to hire a youth pastor is at an all-time high. Today's parents probably had the opportunity to grow up in a youth ministry. Many have meaningful memories of their youth ministry experiences. To them, a youth pastor is the key to successfully giving their kids a similar experience and, to some extent, reliving their own personal experiences.

Some parents place such a high value on having a youth pastor that they'll threaten to leave the church if you don't find someone soon. Or they just leave, without threatening. A "concerned" parent may say things like, "We're going to go to a church where our teens are valued."


In this scenario, the church says, "We want our congregation to value our teenagers, but we don't have any people young enough [read: under 50] to lead the programs" or, "We're a small church with volunteers already serving in other areas." The obvious solution, then, seems to be to hire someone outside the church to lead the youth ministry.

While that solution may seem immensely practical in the moment, it ultimately fails to address a bigger problem within the church: Why young people choose not to attend or choose not to get involved in ministry. Hiring a youth worker under those conditions would enable the congregation to maintain an unworkable demographic-one that's unhealthy and dysfunctional. Whatever kids you reach as a result of hiring a youth pastor will almost certainly stop attending your church after high school, or when the youth pastor leaves.


Things are going well in the youth program. You have good participation. You want to keep the numbers and excitement up. That makes sense. But if your church needs a youth pastor on staff to maintain momentum, something's wrong. You may have situations and circumstances working against your youth ministry. Churches that depend on paid or volunteer staff for momentum are dog-paddling in the open sea. That kind of ministry can't be sustained. There must be an intervention. (We'll talk more about this in chapter 4.)


As a consultant, I hear this proclamation too often. Maybe you've heard it in your church. It's often tossed around in the interview process. It's a good line because it sells the church's desire for greatness-and youth pastors love it.

The problem with this line of thinking is there isn't a "best" youth group in the area. There are only youth groups you hear about, and youth groups you don't hear about. Being a well-known youth group has very little to do with health or effectiveness and a lot to do with size and budget.

Your church is the best church to minister to your kids, their friends, and their families. So don't put too much stock in the cool stories your pastor friends tell about their youth ministries. Most of them aren't completely true anyway.


Keeping kids out of trouble is a worthy goal, especially when you consider the lifelong consequences that can result from spontaneous decisions made by adolescents with too much time on their hands. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America and community recreation centers exist for this very reason.

As a pastor, you know that churches have a greater purpose: Connecting young people to their Creator and helping them live their lives in a way that honors God. Youth ministry has little to do with behavior modification, which is the real goal behind this very bad reason to hire a youth pastor.


Sustaining programs is not the point of youth ministry-or the church. It often might feel like it is, but it's not. In much the same way that churches that focus on their survival actually contribute to their demise, youth ministries that focus on keeping programs running may have one foot in the grave.

The purpose of youth programs is to connect teenagers relationally to God, to other teenagers, and to adults in your congregation. If you hire someone simply to run your programs, you need to recognize it as a symptom of a far greater problem in your church.


This is a touchy one. It might be in your church's best interest to take a break from having a staff person devoted to youth ministry. That would give you a chance to evaluate your situation and reflect on how your church community embraces young people and their families.


Your church has loads of cash and doesn't know what to do with it. If that's the case, you don't need a youth pastor, you need a youth ministry consultant.

Most of these reasons involve an external force putting pressure on you or the church to find a youth pastor. That driving need can teach you something about yourself and your church, if you explore it properly. But it's important that you understand this: Feeling rushed to hire a youth pastor is a sign that something's wrong. It's a signal that there are issues to be addressed before you embark on the hiring process.

Your church has an opportunity to move forward to a healthier place. Will you take it?


1. Which reason in this chapter most accurately describes our mindset the last time we hired a youth pastor?

2. What did we learn from the experience?

3. Which of the poor reasons for hiring a youth pastor are most prevalent in our church? Explain.

4. What steps can we take to make sure our mindset is right before we hire a youth pastor?


The Hidden Assumption

Many parents equate having a youth staff person with the level of commitment and support a church offers them as a family. Their feelings could be stated like this: "If you care about me as a parent and if you care about my child, you'll hire a youth pastor. If you don't have a youth staff, it must mean you don't want to meet my needs."

The Problem

Sadly, this view often is right on the money. There is, however, a growing population of churches that value students too much to hire a youth pastor for this reason.


Excerpted from Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors by Mark Riddle Copyright © 2009 by Mark Riddle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Special Acknowledgments 12

Important! A Note about Gifting This Book 13

Introduction 14

Section 1 Staffing for Youth Ministry 17

Chapter 1 Why Do You Want to Hire a Youth Pastor? 18

Chapter 2 The 35-Pound Raccoon and an Opportunity 24

Chapter 3 Good Reasons to Hire a Youth Pastor 32

Chapter 4 Church A & Church B 35

Chapter 5 A Tale of Two Youth Pastors 47

Chapter 6 Preparing Your Church for a Youth Pastor 50

Chapter 7 Rethinking the Hiring Process 55

Chapter 8 How to Find a Youth Pastor 63

Chapter 9 A Really Bad Interview Question 70

Chapter 10 Before You Say Yes: A Chapter for Youth Pastors 73

Chapter 11 Catalytic Leadership 78

Chapter 12 What Is the Ideal Age for a Youth Ministry Candidate? 81

Section 2 Getting into Your Youth Pastor's Head 83

Chapter 13 The Art of Unearthing Assumptions 84

Chapter 14 If You Aren't Going to Mentor Your Youth Pastor, You Don't Deserve One 109

Chapter 15 The Humanity of It All 114

Chapter 16 Escaping the Constant Emotional Burn of Ministry 119

Chapter 17 Passion 127

Chapter 18 Teamwork and Loyalty 131

Chapter 19 I've Got Your Back! 136

Chapter 20 Unfunny Jokes the Church Keeps Telling 141

Chapter 21 Youth Are the Worms 146

Chapter 22 The Imaginary Vacuum 153

Chapter 23 The Comparison Game 157

Chapter 24 Expectations 161

Chapter 25 Leadership in an Anxious Church 173

Chapter 26 The Part-Time Youth Pastor 180

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