Glorified Baby-Sitting: Getting Beyond Youth Ministry Games

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“What exactly do you do?” As a youth pastor, I am often asked this question. Many people view my job as glorified baby-sitting. I hang out with teenagers to keep them out of trouble. Others view my job primarily as a program director. I organize entertaining events and cool games for youth so that they will have something to do.

Now, as a youth minister, I do spend time hanging out with teenagers and organizing events. I also love games and as a youth group we play a lot of them. I think games are good. I think having fun is an important element in youth groups and in churches. However, youth ministry is more than fun games, exciting trips, and eating pizza (although, I do eat more pizza than should be humanly possible). Our goals as youth ministers can include fun and games, but they must go beyond them as well. One way we can do this by keeping in mind the “big-picture” themes of youth ministry. Below are three themes that I focus on as a youth worker.

1. Sustainability

Is what we are doing as a ministry sustainable for the long haul? Are we building a healthy ministry? Is the way we are doing ministry depleting our resources and leading us to burnout. Often, the youth ministry looks good from the outside, but inside you know that you are doing too much. The pace is too fast or the amount of kids is outgrowing your volunteer base. Everything is ok right now, but you’re heading for disaster. There’s a reason why so many youth ministers quit after a year or two. Youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Shared Service

Develop a team of youth workers. Every youth ministry needs to create a group of adults who are not merely chaperones, but are caring and supportive youth workers. Young people need adults who will invest in their lives. Youth pastors need adults who will support them and help minister to our young people. There is only so much you can do on your own. You need a team.

3. Sanctification

Our youth ministries need to help people grow in Christ. This may seem obvious, but often we can lose focus and place our attention solely on large numbers and the quality of our programs. If we’re not careful, we stop being pastors and become more like CEOs. Our calling and goal as youth pastors is “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) Our youth ministries exist for the same reason our churches exist. Our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In all our serving, playing, singing, eating, and praying…our hope is to have people mature and grow in Christ. Here’s one question I ask myself often: “Is the way I am doing ministry allowing me to grow closer to Jesus?” If not, then I need to reevaluate what I’m doing. If I’m not growing, how can I expect my volunteers and students to grow?

A youth pastor is more than a glorified baby-sitter. We are more than program directors. Youth ministry is not a church job, but rather a holy calling. We are called to disciple young people in the Christian faith. We are called to incorporate young people into the life of the Church. We are called to build and sustain healthy youth ministries where students connect to God and with one another. So, “what does a youth pastor do?” Yes, we organize events, play games, and eat pizza. But more than that, we are partners in God’s work, helping to raise up a generation in the faith.

What are your three big-picture themes for youth ministry? We would love to get your input in the comments section below!

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Brandon Dasinger is the Senior Pastor at First UMC Pace. Before coming to Pace, he spent 12 years as a Student Minister. Brandon has a B. A. in Biblical Studies from Faulkner University and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. Brandon and his wife Kelli have two children and a crazy but lovable Boston bulldog. They love all things related to orphan-care, food, and SEC football.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Great themes. I like your explanation of sustainability and believe it also works when you think about a faith that not only isn’t lost in college, but grows as teens become young adults.
    If I had to limit my big picture ideas to three, I think I would have the same ideas couched in different ways: Vital Relationships (w/ friends, w/ God, w/ caring adults, w/ parents), Healthy Disciplines (spiritual and other) to guide life and ministry, & Leadership (getting the church to carry out the promises made at baptism, equipping adult leaders, raising youth leaders.

    • Thanks Dan! I love your thought about the promises we make at a child’s baptism. A great question would be: Does our church’s priorities and budget reflect the promises we make at baptisms?

  2. Thanks Brandon for this great blog. I love the third theme, sanctification. Especially the part where we must self-reflect. If I’m not growing in my relationship with Christ, no one under my ministry is going to be growing.

  3. As some whose been involed in youth ministry in some degree or another since 1995, this is excellent! I’m not an expert but I am experienced and the part about Shared Service is what I wish I would’ve heard when I led my first group. Speaking for myself (but I’ve seen this in others too), I thought I had to be the face, hands, feet, and brains of the youth program. When I learned to utilize other’s gifts is when the groups began to grow and spiritually flourish to their potential.
    Thanks for taking the time to write this Brandon. Great stuff!

    • Thanks Kevin! I think all of us are tempted to have the lone ranger approach when it comes to youth ministry because it is easier at first. However, it is not effective in the long run.

  4. We had a sad situation years ago with a youth group when my son was told that he couldn’t attend anymore. He went to a Christian school, we had no near neighbors, and didn’t know many people in the area. He was told that if he did not start to bring non-Christians with him, he was unwelcome. We could see the point, but we felt that it was a ridiculous thing to do. Our son has been a Christian since he was very small, had studied Scriptures, had a lot to add to discussions. He was kind and thoughtful, didn’t hog those discussions. However, because of his social situation, he was told that the church did not want him. We saw that as a typical fault of the grow the group, not the individual, that we have seen in churches in general lately.

    • Very sorry to hear that Ann. Often our obsession with numbers can cause us to forget the needs and concerns of an individual. Again, the temptation to act like a CEO instead of a pastor is a big one.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! Your writing is a wonderful tool to help a group recognize successes, refocus, and also move forward. Absolutely, our primary focus throughout all we do should be to help young people grow in Christ. We should be satisfied with our efforts as long as we give every single person who comes to us the opportunity to do just that! Thanks again!

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