The Lead Pastor’s Role in Youth Ministry

Many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day misunderstood His heart and message. Yet the children in the temple courts recognized Jesus for who He is. Matthew 21:15 says, “When the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.”

One of the things I love about youth ministry is how quickly young people figure out who Jesus is. It’s often easier to bring a teenager to Christ than an adult. Youth aren’t stuck in their ways like so many adults I meet.

Lead pastors need God’s heart not only for adult congregants but also for the whole church — and especially for the next generation of church leaders.

I have the joy of serving as both a lead pastor and youth pastor, while also leading youth ministry for the Southern California Network of the Assemblies of God. I love being a lead pastor, but my calling remains clear: reaching young people for Jesus!

It is not always easy for lead pastors to connect with youth. Whether you have a youth pastor or you are doing double duty as a leader of adults and students, you have a key role to play in reaching today’s generation.

With a Youth Pastor

Your first thought may be, I have a youth pastor. I don’t need to connect with youth. Lead pastors have to make a decision: Are we going to build a relationship with the new generation or not?

It would be easy to let that responsibility fall solely on our youth pastors. However, the students we have in our churches will graduate. When they do, whether they have a relationship with the lead pastor will likely influence their decision to stay or go to a different church.

Here are three ways to connect with teens while working alongside a youth pastor:

  • Show up on a youth night — and not just when the youth pastor asks you to speak. Come just to hang out and support the group. The students will love it, and so will your youth pastor.
  • Make your Sunday sermons as inclusive as possible. Keep students in mind as you prepare. Ask yourself, Would the youngest and oldest people in the room connect with my message? Every once in a while, throw in an illustration from a teenager’s point of view.
  • Connect with your youth pastor. While your youth pastor probably knows your vision and dreams for the church, do you know your youth pastor’s vision and dreams for his or her ministry? Your support means a lot. Be the youth pastor’s advocate, and he or she will be your ally. The youth pastor could be your most influential point of connection between you and the church’s young people.
Lead pastors, we can’t miss out on discipling today’s generation.

Without a Youth Pastor

It’s not easy wearing multiple hats, but in many small church ministries the lead pastor and youth pastor are the same person.

Ideally, you will recruit or raise up leaders to take over at some point. But until then, you are in a better situation than you might think. Here are three things to keep in view as you lead your church and youth group:

  • You are in the best possible place to help grow your church. The one thing I have learned in leading both youth and adults is teenagers are much more eager than adults to invite people to church. I have a great relationship with our youth. They know any message I preach will relate to them as well. They don’t see the main service as an event that isn’t for them. Their attitude is, “My pastor is speaking on Sunday, and I’m going to bring my friends!”
  • You can integrate your ministries. You don’t have to sell the lead pastor on letting young people have ownership on Sundays. Give students a role in the main service. It has worked out great for us to have young people working alongside adults in leading worship, ushering, greeting and hosting. They don’t want to just be spectators. Give them a chance to be participants.
  • Relationship is key. You are busy. Don’t try to be like the youth ministry across town with fancy lights, stage sets, and more. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but every youth pastor knows the key is building relationships with students. Create moments with them outside of youth night. Have several over for a movie night, or meet up with a group at Starbucks. I discipled a group of high school guys once a week at Del Taco. They remembered those moments more than my sermons.

Lead pastors, we can’t miss out on discipling today’s generation. They have been labeled many things, but I think they could be one of the most important groups of disciples this world has ever known.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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