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It’s time for churches to stop abusing youth pastors

Mark Oestreicher is an old friend and a great thinker (that’s him in the box, but usually he’s thinking outside it – I thought the picture was nicely representative of the topic – “give me his head on a platter!”), now President of Youth Specialties. His blog touches on a tender subject. Yout…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Mark Oestreicher is an old friend and a great thinker (that’s him in the box, but usually he’s thinking outside it – I thought the picture was nicely representative of the topic – “give me his head on a platter!”), now President of Youth Specialties.
His blog touches on a tender subject. Youth pastors, by and large, are employees of institutions known as churches. They are hired, sometimes fired, and too often, abused in the process.

The whole system stinks. Youth pastors should not be employees, they should be raised up organically from within the church and should be covenantal members of the body. The litany of abuse they experience in the current flawed model touches a raw nerve. Marko says:

“recently i had dinner with a youth worker couple who had the kind of story i
hear way too often these days. they’d been beat up, in one way or another, by
two or three churches in a row. the pastor had said they were doing a great job,
blah, blah, blah. though he did seem to have concerns about ministry style (they
were relational, he was organizational). in the end, they got totally blindsided
by the pastor or the board telling them they needed to leave. there was some
kind of agreement on what would be said publicly, which the church and pastor
(the way it was told to me) totally violated. lots of hurt. lots of pain. lots
of mess.

i hear these stories every week. literally. there are variations, of course.
some involve massive tension with a cold-hearted automaton of a senior pastor
over a period of years, resulting in the ministry version of parallel-play
(ministering alongside each other without any significant interaction with each
other). some involve a spineless yes-man of a senior pastor and an overbearing
board with some misguided ideas about what the youth ministry should be doing or
valuing. but the common thread is “abuse”. the stories rarely involve two valid points
of view.”

49 comments to that blog! Here’s the one I liked the best: “What I don’t understand is why so many senior pastors are so bad at discipling
and loving their staff? Even weirder is that most of them got their starts as
“us”. There are very few people in the church that haven’t worked with students
in some regard.”

The problem is not the senior pastor and it’s not the youth pastor – it’s the system! Or maybe I’m all wet…your thoughts?

Comments (7)

  • So, are you saying they shouldn’t get paid for what they do? I’m not clear as to the picture you’re trying to paint here: “Youth pastors should not be employees, they should be raised up organically from within the church and should be covenantal members of the body.”

    What I do understand, and agree with, is that it does happen. Thankfully, I know of youth pastors and senior pastors where it doesn’t happen. That doesn’t change the fact that we can do ministry better or differently, but I have seen hints and almost focused pictures of what it can look like, and that excites me.

    Our pastor is big on covenant, too. I’m curious what your definition of it is.

  • I think the basic problem is that the position of youth pastor is not God’s plan. Fathers are to be their children’s youth pastor. Where are the fathers? If a child comes from a home without a father or an unsaved father, maybe those kids should be taken up by the fathers doing their biblical job. I feel bad for youth pastors, they are trying very hard to do something that shouldn’t be their job in the first place while the mothers and fathers complain about how they do it.

  • In the last 30 years of youth work I have seen the diffeent “flows” of how a church and families relate to a youth minister. I have seen how pastors (wife?), church, and the youth’s parents appreciate you for all the help you are giving their child. That is until the youth gets on fire and starts talking about Jesus all the time, reading the bibles, and challenging the apathy of the religios within the church and their own homes – then all hell brakes lose. Accusations arise, feelings become volcanoes, and there are not enough bandages to cover the wounds which can bleed for many years, making many people to be of non-effect for the gospel of Christ. We need the body of Christ and all its peculiar members, oops! members in particular! When we realize that the Lord chooses us all for specific purposes then we can accept ministry, correction, and love from all parts/members of the body. When we “feel” lack real or not of our abilities(they are really God’s anyway)…the evil one uses it against us and others to divide and destroy, as in the case of the wounded youth workers. In my own life I have seen parents and pastors so appreciate me until as one mother put it “…all he(her 18 year old son who I was discipling, at his request) does is read his bible, play worship songs, talk about Jesus, and want to go on a missions trip…he is not joining the rest of the family in (gossip, backbiting, watching inappropriate movies, etc) family time…we think he needs a shrink..” And yes, I have had my share of demons cast out of me by pastors and parents – because of wanting a deeper life for youth and all around. I as a parent have had to come to this also, I allow others to disciple my children, in fact, I welcome it. It is just hard to find others who know how, or really want to disciple to Christ. Oh, they will discple them, but not with the Christ-view, rather the world-view; and even in that it is a teachable moment. We are the body of Christ, each one having a part in each other’s lives. Let us welcome those who will disciple our youth, and cry out for mercy and repent for our jealousy, rather we be a parent, pastor/wife, church, other youth leaders for our sin of hindering the Holy Spirit. Also, let us pour in the oil and wine of the Spirit in the wounded youth workers hearts, that they can go an be about Father’s business.

  • Hot topic! I don’t know of single guy in ministry that hasn’t felt abused in some way. This is especially the case in youth ministry where young guys feel under-appreciated and unheard most of the time. Often their feelings are correct.

    This is just my thought, but it is the reason I am still in youth ministry. There isn’t much of what we used to see in the ancient church of pursecution. Sure there are pockets here and there, but especially in the US, there just isn’t much true persecution going on. I think people grow the most under hard times and I think that is what guys in youth ministry are under. I friend once challenged me when I was complaining about my church and how I was fed up with working for the superficial to reach the rich young rulers of the region. He said, “Well, are you called to minister to them anyway?” OK, that put me in my place. So no one is asking me to die, but the sacrifice of ministry is a lot like persecution some times. And it hurts that it comes from the people we serve (Judas?).

    My particular denomination seems to be a lot better than some about this. There are a lot of checks and balances. Yet people will abuse whatever system is in place. So I agree that the system is only part of the problem. My own plan is to stick with it through the junk of ministry even when I feel like it is abuse.

  • After reading your article on covenant relationships (and some interesting comments, too), I’m in whole hearted agreement. This is something our pastor tries to encourage often. Looking at the bigger picture (not just youth pastors), the lack of covenant relationships is what is causing the church to have so much transfer growth. People get offended, and, instead of working it out, they just leave, often without even telling the pastor they’re doing so. I am thinking that it’s one of the major problems with mega-churches, even those that center around small groups (though those certainly help encourage a covenant relationship).

    For youth pastors, the situation is similar. A youth pastor offends somebody, and, instead of pursuing relationship and working it out, people simply leave or get rid of the youth pastor (whichever is easiest for the person offended). I used to try and help people see the error of this by explaining that we’re a family, and families don’t do this… until I realized that’s exactly what families do. But divorce doesn’t affect our culture or our children at all.

    I do agree with Paul, though, as well as other who’ve posted on Marko’s blog – while all this wounding is wrong, we’re not called to condemn senior pastors, committee, etc., but to forgive and love them, while calling them to a higher calling in the process. Granted, that’s difficult to do when you’re forced out of the picture, and those kinds of wounds run deep, and hurt tremendously, but that doesn’t change our calling. Yes, I’ve been there, though I didn’t end up being fired, thankfully. It was hard to forgive, and a long process of healing, but God has been doing it.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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