An Open Letter to Youth Pastors and Leaders

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Aaron Wolgamott

To every Youth Pastor and Adult Leader serving in Youth Ministry…

This is more of a letter than a blog post. It’s a letter from my heart to your heart, from one who loves students and sees the immense value of youth ministry to another who loves students and sees the immense value of youth ministry. It is a letter to remind you of what really matters the most in youth ministry.

It’s students. Students matter the most. Not the programs, the big events, the games, the coolness factor of the youth room, or even how great the lessons and small group discussions are.

Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with programs, events, games, lessons and small group discussions, or even creating a cool youth room where students can feel comfortable. When done well, they can all be a valuable piece of a quality youth ministry. But ultimately, the teenagers themselves are what truly matter.

You can have a successful youth ministry without a cool youth room, crazy fun games, big events, or fancy and well-organized programs. Lesson and small groups I will say are a must at some level…but remember that even those are only successful if the students know that you care about them and really do want to help them and listen to them.

The students are by far what matters most.

Make sure you take the time to listen to your students. Listen to them as they share their dreams, ideas, struggles, and fears. Listen to them and talk with them about their doubts and questions about faith and this life. Allow them the freedom to share whatever is on their heart with you.

Find ways to be involved in their lives in little and big ways. Show up at their games and activities to cheer them on and show them support. Grab a bite to eat with them so you can build a relationship with them. Let them know you are there for them if and when they need you to be. And then when something major happens in their life that brings their world crashing down, be there for them.

Don’t just preach at them; rather, invest in their lives and disciple them. Show them what scripture teaches, but also help them apply what scripture teaches in their everyday life. Be transparent (appropriate transparency, obviously) with them about what you’re learning in your life.

Make the youth ministry about them. Let them know in tangible ways that they’re what’s most important in the ministry, and that you truly care for them. Tell them you are proud of them. Show them you care about them. Treat them with respect. Pay attention to them.

Here is why I’m writing you this letter, reminding you of this truth…

Because I’m now on the other side. I worked in youth ministry since I was a freshman in college, and was full-time since graduating college 14 years ago (18 total years in youth ministry). But I am currently on sabbatical from ministry, so I’m not the guy planning the events and seeking to invest in students’ lives.

Now I am the parent praying and desiring that you will care for and invest in my own teenagers’ lives. And while I know that as their parent I have a God-given responsibility to raise my children, I also understand that my children need more than just me to invest in their lives. Having other solid Christian adults in their lives who care about them and invest in them is crucial. I know it was for me when I was growing up. My youth pastor had the single biggest influence on my life, and I am forever thankful for him investing in my life.

Keep your eyes open, so you can see what is going on in their lives and thus be able to care for them accordingly. Train yourself to properly and effectively connect with and invest in your students. Make that the priority…because students need you to.

When I was in youth ministry, I knew all that I’m reminding you of. I knew the importance of it, and I’m not suggesting you don’t know the importance of it yourself or that you don’t seek to do any of what I’ve shared. But now that I’m on the other side, I see the importance of it from a fresh perspective. So, I’m reminding you of all this once again.

Sincerely,

A parent first, and former Youth Pastor second