Disorganized. Uncommitted. Unreliable. Unprepared. Unprofessional. Immature. Hot-headed. Last in, first out. One-dimensional. Sloppy.
Youth pastors are disposable.
These are the words used to describe our profession by outsiders.
Youth ministry needs a makeover. While that makeover may need to include some changes in strategy this is really a makeover of something far more important than how we look.
If this were a marketing issue some would argue that we need to think about re-branding our profession. (Kind of like airline stewardesses became flight attendants.) You are already seeing some people try to shift their verbiage to say, “I’m a student pastor.” But that’s not the kind of makeover I’m suggesting.
I don’t think we need to change the name of our profession as it serves us well. Ultimately, this isn’t a marketing problem.
We need a new identity.
See, the list of things I posted above aren’t really true for most youth workers I’ve met. And while you could throw up your hands and claim that a small number of people are giving us a bad name I don’t think that this is the problem, either.
But let’s be honest for a minute. There really is a little bit of truth in all of us within those descriptions. Just like there is probably the same amount of truth in that with each person on the planet.
What I mean by “we need a new identity” is that we need to think of ourselves differently.
As I engage with oodles of youth workers each year I’m a little bit disappointed how the things above are actually how many in youth ministry think of themselves and are even proud of it. There’s a certain arrogance in saying things like, “Yeah, I don’t dress like a normal 29 year old.” Or “Of course I was late, I’m the youth pastor.”
The stereotype we have created for ourselves, created our persona around, and even forms the identity of our community doesn’t accurately reflect the work that we do or the work professional youth workers do.
We’ve type casted ourselves and it is killing us from the inside out.
This is a thinking issue more than it is a reality issue. We in youth ministry need to start thinking of ourselves differently. We need to apply some sober judgement of ourselves and think about ourselves and our ministry in more positive ways.
Most youth workers are hard working, loyal, loving, thoughtful, amazing people. In fact, most of the people I know who work at churches and parachurches are actually inspiring to be around.
There is a difference between not taking yourself too seriously and not being taken seriously. There’s an important distinction between having a fun-loving attitude and loving to be made fun of. And there’s a big difference between being uncomfortable with the respect people naturally give pastors and feeling comfortable with a certain amount of disrespect.
It’s my prayer that those who call youth ministry a profession would aspire to a new level of sophistication. I hope that we shed our whiney exterior and instead identify ourselves as faithful, creative, passionate servants willing to do whatever it takes to reach this generation with the Good News of Jesus Christ.