The Emotionally Healthy Youth Pastor

For the past 2.5 years my job has shifted from being a youth pastor to being a cheerleader, encourager, and fan of youth workers around the country.

And, not surprisingly, I’ve bumped into a lot of youth workers with a shared story. Careers flopping. Getting fired. Financial struggles. And marriages crumbing.

As you’d expect during a down economy (mixed with a season of re-thinking ministry strategies) there are a whole lot of people in full-time youth ministry who aren’t emotionally healthy.

But I’ve also gotten to know some pretty happy and satisfied youth workers. They face the exact same struggles in youth ministry but they seem to have figured out how to manage it. (For lack of a better term)

Rather than share what I think some of the problems are… I thought it would be more useful to share a couple of things that I see, universally, that emotionally healthy youth pastors have.

Two hallmarks of an emotionally healthy youth pastor

  1. Low ownership of the youth ministry program. They tend to have Sunday school (even if they don’t teach it) and a mid-week program with some events/camps/retreats along the way. They seem less focused on being on the leading edge and more focused on doing what they are good at. They see their role as the leader of the program more than they define themselves as the leader of the program. It’s a profession and they can turn it on and turn it off. It’s not a “it’s just a job” mentality. It’s bigger than that as its a healthy acceptance of their role in students lives.
  2. Belonging to adult community. This is the bigger of the two. We are made for community. Healthy youth workers have more than just a couple of friends they see occasionally. They have community. They have a group of people in their life that don’t see them as the youth pastor but as just another knucklehead in a group of friends. This is being a part of a softball league or a fellowship of star trek geeks or even joining a small group from a church across town.

The interesting thing about these two hallmarks is that they are completely within the control of the youth pastor. These are things you can actually do and change relatively easily. You don’t even have to tell anyone. You don’t have to preach about it. You can just do it.

If you are starting to feel like youth ministry isn’t for you. Or if you are thinking that you aren’t really built to do this for the long haul. I’d suggest looking at these two things, first.

Published by Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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13 Comments

  1. It has taken me a long time, and a deeper understanding of myself for me to come to understand these 2 rules. It takes a lot of introspection and willing to admit to yourself you are actually doing something that isn’t the best thing for you, aka removal of pride. If any of you are out there and are reading this, don’t just skim it, what he is saying is valuable. I would suggest taking these two simple rule and sitting back for a very transparent evaluation.
    It won’t affect everyone, but it is valuable for many.

    Good stuff Adam! I have come a long way in this, but have a long way to go.

  2. i love this post. i resonated with point two– belonging to a healthy community. The keyword is “belonging”. I think a lot of us “have” community but it is way more difficult and takes time to belong to a community. Belonging means you fit, contribute, and are valued as a member of the community. In another words, people in your community laugh at your jokes and tell you when your zipper is down. The hardest part of detaching from youth pastor mode in my community is not taking the leader role to lead prayers, spark conversation, act stupid, etc… Then again… maybe this is who I am in Christ…. not sure… still trying to figure out this out……..

    ps why do i get all emotional and spill the beans on your blog?

    1. Yeah, being in a community where everyone looks at you as “just Jeremy” is a key component. As a pastor, I was never able to belong to a community until I made it clear I wasn’t the leader of it. I 100% refuse to lead my community group.

      Why do you get gooshy here? Maybe we are going trough the same stuff? I’m totally a wussy lately. Everything makes me cry.

      1. My wife and I got to experience this for the first time 3 years ago when we started at the church we’re at now. We refused to lead a group, or even host a group. We just wanted to belong. From the very beginning of our ministry we joined a group. Now they all see us as Nikomas and Rachel first and foremost…not as a minister on staff. It feels like I’m part of a church again. I love it!

  3. The biggest struggle for me during my tenure as a youth pastor (while I’m in college, no less) was a sense of belonging. Here I was, leading the group, yet I had nobody to lead/walk with me on a personal, day-to-day basis. Now, part of that is my own fault, and I accept that blame. One could also say that since I was also part of a Christian college campus community, it seems odd that I was seemingly alone most of the time. The truth is, if you’ve ever been to a Christian campus, you know what I’m talking about.

    It’s been a month since I resigned. I know it was the right decision to make, as I was not healthy as a youth leader at all, especially when considering this criteria you have pointed out, Adam. Hopefully as I finish up my degree I can recapture that sense of community that is so vital for not just every youth pastor, but person.

    1. If nothing else… it’s a great lesson to learn early in your ministry career. Now you know a new direction of questioning in the interview process… “what space can you help me guard so that I have healthy community in my life?”

      And yes, I’ve been on a Christian campus. Those were some of the darkest times of my walk with Jesus.

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