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Youth pastors must disciple!

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For the last couple of decades, I’ve been calling youth ministers to focus on their central calling – discipling young people as Jesus did his disciples. The problem they face is that churches, pastors and parents don’t share this view. Yes, they’ll say they do, but when the rubber meets the road…
By Seth Barnes
For the last couple of decades, I’ve been calling youth ministers to focus on their central calling – discipling young people as Jesus did his disciples. The problem they face is that churches, pastors and parents don’t share this view. Yes, they’ll say they do, but when the rubber meets the road, they won’t back youth ministers to make the hard choices that allow them to do it.
 
Five years ago I wrote the following post on the subject. And since then, I’m afraid the issue has become worse. I’m interested in any ideas you may have about how we fix the problem.
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The Church in America has
produced a generation of professional youth pastors. They care about youth and want to impact them
for Jesus, but they’ve also got to run a program:
  • They’ve
    got to schedule regular youth group meetings.
  • They
    need to meet with parents.
  • They
    have to go to staff meetings.
  • They
    have to attend conferences.
  • They
    are expected to fill their calendars with “youth activities.”

Ultimately, many of them stay at one church less than two
years. So, it is a rare youth pastor who
is able to spend the time needed discipling individual students.

If you’re an average youth worker you got into the field because you
wanted to disciple young people. But
something happened along the way. Your
church gave you a flawed model of discipleship, one that involves little
long-term ministry and results in meager fruit.

Expectations, calendars, and a risk-averse evangelical
culture all make your life complicated.

Our culture wants you to work as guns-for-hire, babysitting a
generation sitting back with arms folded and a smirk that says, “Go ahead and
try to hold my attention. I’ve got
satellite TV, an X-box, wireless internet, a cell phone, and a schedule that
won’t quit. See where you fit in that
list.”

Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” His terms were uncompromising; ours should be
too.

If you’re a youth worker reading this, I don’t want to leave
you in the lurch. Let me recommend a few
practical steps you can take:

First, if your heart is telling you, “disciple young people”
and your program won’t let you do it, then decide to get out of your program
and into something that allows you to disciple young people. Don’t let
salary be a major consideration.

Second, consider going to your senior pastor and asking for
permission to apply Jesus’ model of discipleship. Here’s one way – do what a nearby Atlanta
church does, begin by taking those who really want to be discipled on a two-month
summer mission trip. That’s right, I
said two months! How else are you going
to change their habits? Get adult
volunteers to take everyone else to water parks.

Third, consider finding a team who will encourage you to
disciple young people in the same way Jesus did. If you’re consistently discouraged where you
are, you may need to consider the possibility that God wants you to quit your
current job, but if He does, at least you can look for a place that lets you
disciple the way that Jesus did.


Also, check out: A crisis in youth ministry

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