Are Churches Limiting Themselves by the Requirements They Set for Youth Pastors?

“Thanks, but this position is asking for a married couple. We wish you the best, and join with you in prayer as you consider the next step.”

“Thanks, but we don’t think you have the right amount of experience required for this position.”

These are a few of the many rejections that I’ve encountered during my search for a position as a youth pastor. Frustrating is noting that a church that I’ve interviewed at is looking again for a youth pastor, but I’m not it. I respect their decision and the fact that many churches ask for a person who has 3-5 years experience and is married. I am not sour, just slighted. The North American church is boxing in ministry in the sense that churches ask for an archetype: not too young, married mid 20-30 something that have a wicked sense of humor. This is a gentle critique because the worst thing that the church can do is make a person feel like a second-class citizen. In my opinion, the church has done this for years. This article will examine the marriage duo in ministry, the amount of experience and gently rebuke the Church for stigmatizing young singles in ministry. I’ve had enough of being a second-class citizen; it’s time for me to play ball with the big boys.

I understand the entire measure for having someone married. I acknowledge this and do respect this. Yes, there is an added benefit of security and knowing that the youth pastor has a stable family environment.  I understand that it is also expected of the youth pastor’s wife to assist him in his ministry. I get all this and respect it. In the book of Acts, Priscilla and her husband Aquila were both in ministry. The issue here is that most often than not, churches will abuse this pairing. I have heard stories of churches that constantly drive this dynamic duo non-stop. This leads these pairs to burn out. Also, there is a risk that a marriage can break down and the ministerial dynamic duo gets a divorce due to the excessive amount of stress. What young singles bring is a drive to succeed and work hard. There are no connections to domestic life; no domestic worries that can also tie the minister down. I believe Paul states it best:

I wish all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God. I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.–1 Corinthians 7:7, 32 (NIV)

I follow the Pauline stance. Currently, I’m working on revamping my church’s youth ministry and I co-teach the youth Sunday school. I believe that people come with different gifts and different skills to the table. To completely dismiss a person based on marital status shuts the North American church to the potential for change and revival that many churches ask for. However, this is not the only ill that the North American church has.

Like most jobs, the more experience in youth ministry the better. I’ve been out of college for a year, I have the education. No church wants to take the risk of hiring someone who has less than a year of experience (I actually have 15 months experience). Like the point I mentioned earlier, I see the point in this. Ministers who have been working for three to five years bring a proven track record. I am a huge risk, because there is no one that can vouch accurately for me. I’m also 23, a very nascent age for youth ministers. I take great solace with Paul’s advice to Timothy:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.–1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)

I love this particular verse because it sets guidelines for young bucks like me. I believe that I set an example of my competency in ministry in the way I speak, live, love and how my faith works itself out in my daily life. I would take a bullet for the teens in my Sunday school (and soon to be youth service). What I have noticed is an attitude that people my age are non-committal and prefer to sleep in until noon. This is an erroneous notion; we would get up and work hard for a cause that we strongly believe in. Millenials, the accurate term for my generation, have a stronger spirituality than Generation X. Millenials also tend to lean towards more spiritual things. This is to the church’s advantage, if only we wake up.

My observations from my denomination are skewed. In my particular district, and other surrounding Assemblies of God districts there is strong praise and acceptance for 20-year olds in ministry. In my search for a position in more outlying districts, I’ve been put down gently to being treated like a scourge on the denomination. I follow Pauline discourse on this line: why am I lesser because I’m single and young? Isn’t that an advantage? Shouldn’t that be an advantage? In fact, because I’m young and single, I’m able to do more than my married contemporaries. My main focus is how to reach people and get the Gospel out. That is what we’re commanded to do, not get married, have kids and have a great youth program. A program, as Willow Creek has just found out, does nothing more than fill the seats. Have we in the North American church come to this? Just pew warmers?

I’ve been clear about my disdain about finding a position at a church. I’ve had a lot of reasons why I’ve only reached one church visit/board interview. I’ve examined the reasons why the North American church hires married couples over singles and why experience matters. I’ve given my criticism about all that and how my particular age group should be embraced rather than ostracized. It’s up to you now; you’ve read a (hopefully) gentle critique. Paul would give some praise. My praise for the North American church is this: I love how we’re so passionate. I love that we still have vision and desire to see the work of God done. On that note, I wish you all peace in the name of Christ.

Be First to Comment

  1. laned107 said:

    I appreciate the author’s provocative question and gentle criticism of the church for creating “second class” citizens, but I think there are some fallacies and illogical conclusions here. It’s certainly not fair to say that single people are somehow immune from burnout or domestic stress in a way that married people are not. This is a matter of boundaries and priorities more than a case of domestic responsibilities that “tie” a minister down. This can become an issue for anyone. Also, to say that the church simply wants an “archetype” ignores a host of values and beliefs that undergird ideas of ministry and marriage. I agree that if a church bases a hiring decision simply on a preconceived stereotype of what a youth minister should be, then that church is in the wrong. I’m hesitant to believe that this is the case across the board for single ministers, however. In regards to the youth question, there’s a nuance to Timothy that I think is sometimes missed. Throughout that book, Paul is exhorting young believers to be examples for other Christians. Capacity or encouragement for leadership is not necessarily always assumed. Paul also has an understanding of experience and maturity in the church. Plus, as a mentor of mine used to say, “Ministers are set apart, except when they’re not.” Previous success is important to churches just as it is in other sectors. Hiring ministry staff is an expensive investment, especially in a bad economy when giving is often down. It stinks, but it’s reality. Even married, experienced youth ministers I know are having a hard time finding work right now. It does sound like the author is well on his way to successful ministry, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see job opportunities open up soon.

    August 2, 2010
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  2. said:

    Dear Laned, Thanks for your comments! As to the fallacies, I am speaking out of my own experience. This is definitely not across the board. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement as well!

    August 3, 2010
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  3. Nice Guy said:

    Very thought provoking indeed and a case well put. However, for me the main flaw in the author’s argument is that he has bought into the other North American church culture that considers ministry as a “job.” Christian ministry is not a job, even though it is right for those who minister to be properly remunerated. Christian ministry is primarily a calling to serve God “where”, “how”, and “with whom” He commands us to. Perhaps what the Lord might be teaching you through all this is to stop viewing ministry as a job and look at it as a calling. If i were you my prayer will be , “Lord, if you are calling me to this church please show me, confirm this calling in others, and open the door. But if you are not callimg me to this church, please let me know and please close the door.” God is the One who opens and no one can shut. But I know the frustration of being turned down by churches. Yet, God is sovereign and we look to Him to show us where he is calling us rather that to churches to offer us jobs. However frustrating for you at present, I believe the Lord is preparing you for something much greater for His glory and your good. Just a few thoughts!!!

    September 3, 2010
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  4. said:

    Dear NiceGuy, That comment is wonderful! I have since changed my view from ministry as a job, but rather as a calling and it has changed my perspective on things. Thank you also for the encouragement. UPDATE: I am now a bivocational Youth Director at my church.

    September 4, 2010
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