POLL: Do you have to be paid to be considered a youth worker?

Context: My last paycheck from a church as a full-time youth pastor came in May 2008. Since that time I’ve worked full-time at a youth ministry organization and volunteered through a local church youth ministry. (Technically, two organizations and two churches.)

Every so often I hear from a youth worker, usually at a church, who says something like, “As a person who used to be a youth worker…” or “You’re a youth ministry influencer and not a youth worker anymore.

That’s the context of this poll. It’s not just about me, though. Think about all of the people you know who used to be on staff at a ministry and are now in a different role. Are those people youth workers in your eyes? I’m trying to understand if you consider a youth worker to only be a paid person from a church/youth ministry organization… or do you define it wider than that?

Be honest. The poll is anonymous.






7 responses to “POLL: Do you have to be paid to be considered a youth worker?”

  1. KJ Avatar

    Absolutely not!  Some of the very best youth workers I have ever been around have been men and women who have never been paid for what they do.  I might even go so far as to say that getting a pay check often hinders the true “youth worker spirit” because it can become merely a job…a way to feed the kids and pay the rent.  When you don’t get paid, it helps keep the motives pretty pure.

    That being said….I do think you have to work hands-on, with teenagers on a regular basis to be considered a youth worker.  Just because somebody makes an income from writing, speaking and teaching about youth ministry doesn’t make them a youth worker any more than somebody who makes an income from writing and speaking about sports makes them an athlete.

    You kinda have to “do” in order to “be”.

    So I do think there can be a difference between a youth worker, and somebody who works for an organization (Non-profit, publisher, seminary) that helps resource and train youth workers.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if the people who spend most of their time teaching, training and influencing would spend just a little more time doing youth work, and if those who spend most of their time doing youth work would spend just a little more time teaching, training and influencing!

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Agreed. We both know there are those of us out there who “were in vocational ministry” who now just write stuff and have no context from the present. I don’t ever want to be that person, for sure. 

      When I came to YS I had a couple of my mentors encourage me to take a year off from any sort of church leadership. They were right. I needed a break… I’d been involved either vocationally or as a hard core volunteer for like 13 years. So the year off was great. But outside of that one year I’ve been actively involved in YM since 1995. I find it more than a little annoying when I hear, “you used to be a youth worker… but now you’re just a volunteer.” 

      It makes me want to slap them. Like, “you realize that a very tiny percentage of people who minister to students are employed, right?”

    2. Bob McNeill Avatar
      Bob McNeill

      I also used to be a paid youth worker 17 years ago. I am now full time as a technology analyst at a financial services company by day, and full time as volunteer webmaster and youth pastor by lunch, nights and weekends. It is a labor of love (and fun) but not dismissible. In fact I think in my later years, even with less focus, I am much more effective at bringing teens to Christ than in my younger frantic years as a paid youth director. I am listed on the web site as the youth pastor at my church, but it is amazing how some churches and staff don’t put these dedicated volunteer leaders on the staff page based solely on their status of pay. – Bob McNeill

  2. Jason Roth Avatar

    I think the only qualifier for being classified as a youth minister or youth worker is that you have face to face contact and personal impact in student’s lives

  3. Brian Seidel Avatar

    I agree with you all, I am not the best “youth worker” at our church, and I am the only one getting paid…

    And I would also make a motion for the term “just a volunteer” to be completely banished and outlawed in the world of YM, actually from Christendom as a whole.

  4. Michael Halbrook Avatar

    No, you don’t have to be paid. I’ve been a youth worker most of my adult life, in one capacity or another, and It’s never been in a paid capacity.  Likewise, I have served in the capacity as Kitchen Manager and as IT Manager for my church, in an officially unpaid capacity. 

    1. Bob McNeill Avatar
      Bob McNeill

      Hi Michael! Good to see you still volunteering!

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