This last year I was replaced as a youth pastor. It wasn’t anything bad that I had done or my church. In fact it will happen to every youth pastor. At some point or another you will be replaced. You will leave your current place of employment and your church will replace you with another youth pastor.
When Mark asked me to write this blog post, I had just celebrated one year of ministry at my new church where I am an Associate Pastor of Adult Ministries. For six wonderful years I poured into students through prayer, Bible studies, retreats, conferences, gross games, lock ins, and more. I had a passion for parents and families and longed to provide curriculum that was family friendly, to encourage parents to do family worship time, and teach kids to respect obey their parents. But, in God’s timing, he has moved me on to a new church and a new pastoral position.
I’ve heard rumors from my former students about how the new youth pastor does things differently than I did. In fact, this last week I’ve been watching pictures stream in from a new camp they are at this year. One the comments that hurt me most of all is when somebody told me the new guy is “not really into family ministry as much as you were.” And all of this has made me ask: did I do enough? Did I set up the youth ministry well for me to leave? Ultimately, did I train up the parents in my youth ministry to continue to disciple their kids after I am gone?
So, here are my regrets. If I could have done it all over again, knowing that one day I would be replaced by some other youth pastor with some other philosophy of ministry, here’s what I would have done:
I so regret that I did not spend more of my hours in youth ministry praying. It is so easy in ministry to get busy with preparation, lunches with students, planning talks, staff meetings, planning games, etc. The apostles were fervent that one of their main job descriptions was to pray and preach the Word (Acts 6:4). Epaphras was commended by Paul for working hard in the Lord by praying (Colossians 4:12-13).
Pray for your students by name often. Pray even more for their parents. Ask them how you can pray with them. Pray specifically for dads that they would disciple their kids. Pray. Pray. Pray as if their lives depended on God!
Spent More Time with Dads
Paul places the weight of spiritual discipleship of youth on fathers (Ephesians 6:4); not on youth pastors, volunteers, or willing college students! And as youth pastors, we need to lean on, encourage, and equip dads to disciple their kids.
To be honest, I was scared of dads. I started full time youth ministry as a newly marred 25 year old with no kids of my own. What could I possibly have to say to 50 year old man? The calling of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10) was an incredible help to me to overcome this fear. If you have a heart for youth ministry, get to know the dads. Pray for them by name. Take them out to lunch and coffee. Hear their stories. Give them books. Encourage them. See them as part of your ministry!
Involved Parents More
Another thing that I wish I would have done more of was get more parents in my ministry and informed them of what I was doing. One of my favorite memories from youth group was a series we did called “Faith At Home.” We invited parents to youth group. I taught the parents. We had parents practice family worship time with their kids. I can still picture a dad praying with his daughter in our youth room; it still brings tears to my eyes to think about!
Why is home discipleship important for youth ministry? Because you will be replaced. Somebody will come after you with a different philosophy, style, or personality than you. And there’s only one thing you can do about it: train up parents to disciple their kids. Through the many youth pastors and volunteers that will come in and out of your youth ministry, parents will be there for the long haul, will love that child with all their heart, will be their day in and day out, and ultimately has the authority from God to teach kids (See Rob Rienow’s book Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom). In the end, pray for parents, spend more time with dads, and involve parents more in your youth ministry.
Kevin Warner resides in Des Moines, IA as an Associate Pastor of Adult Ministries at Lighthouse Community Church. He is married to Adrianne, with two kids, Mitchell and Phoebe, and one on the way. He graduated from Denver Seminary in 2009 with an MDiv concentration in Youth and Family Ministries.