Fixing the Broken in Youth Ministry

This weekend was my third Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Before SYMC, I attended the National Youth Workers Convention for over 12 years. And I have served as a volunteer working with both conferences; seeing the inner workings, meeting and getting to know the hearts of the leadership. But throughout all of those years, all the conferences, all the exciting themes, speakers, and programming, one banner theme seems to be a constant reoccurrence. Youth Ministry is hard, and youth workers are being beat up.

In my early years of ministry, a conference represented a place to glean wisdom, network, pick up resources, and to learn. This weekends away served to educate me, prepare me, equip me, and make me a better youth worker. They were fun; a family reunion of sorts as I caught up with friends serving in different locations. They were inspiring as I joined with thousands for worship. Conferences were the retreat of retreats, glorious, exciting, and fun! But now, my heart breaks when I see the condition of the modern day youth worker as they attend these conferences.

Conferences should be a time of learning, training, exposure to the latest resources, time to meet and mingle with co-laborers, and an opportunity to rest and be renewed. But over the years, conferences have become more than just places for education, they have become emergency rooms for the wounded, broken, and dying.

Tired; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Abused. Mistreated. Taken advantage of. Burned out. Lost. Spiritually dead. Separated from their first love. They’re alone. Sad. And desperate.

This weekend was no different. While it was smiling face on the outside. Inside revealed an empty shell of a person.

How did it get this way? What happened along the way? When did youth ministry move from a metaphorical battlefield to an actual battlefield? Today the term, “in the trenches” has a whole new meaning. Not only are we dodging the fiery darts of the enemy, but also the shrapnel of those who are supposed to be part of our platoon.

Has sin so dominated the church that it’s no longer healthy to serve among believers? Has the leadership become so fixated on the idea of numerical growth that we are willing to sacrifice everyone just to say we’re successful? Is it that lead/senior pastors are totally oblivious to the hurt and pain being caused within their flock? Or are we just gluttons for punishment?

I don’t believe this is the church that Jesus had in mind. I don’t believe this is what he meant when he said, “Love your neighbor…” And I don’t believe that we as youth workers should submit ourselves to the abuse, just to win a few students to the Kingdom.

But where do we go? What can we do? Is it a matter of re-educating the church with regards to “youth ministry?” Is it a book that we hope our pastors will read and be changed? Maybe a movie that reveals the pain, loss and brokenness of the fallen.

Is it just youth ministry? Are their others among us who suffer as we do? The children’s director? The worship pastor? The church staff?

I think it’s time to begin the healing. I think it’s time to begin the conversation. I think it’s time to bring about a change; a change that promotes healthy ministry and healthy ministers.

I know there’s a battle here. But I thought it was a battle not between flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers. There should be safety among the family of God, not a fear of hurt.

What say you? Are you one of the broken? Beaten down? Tired? Abused? Are you ready to share your story? Would you like healing and renewal, or are the Band-Aids working for you?

Join me. Let’s talk about it. Is there hope. Or is this just the reality of not being a “real pastor?”

Comment below. Share your thoughts. Post your ideas. Tell your story. In the days to come, I hope to talk more about the realities of a healthy ministry and healthy ministers.

– jay

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