Emerging youth pastors unite

Below is a recent post from my friend Jeremy Zach.  Youth Pastor gone mad

He lives and serves out in CA and also is the founder of a new, innovative, and progressive training resource for youth pastors.  ReYouthpastor

We have been in dialog and discussion over the past few months about the emerging trends of contextual youth ministry, as well as our common frustrations with the current trend of traditional models and approaches.  We are like-minded and share a similar passion and vision for the future of youth ministry and for the hope of spiritual formation of students (especially postmodern and “unchurched”).

We also believe there are many, many more like-minded youth pastors and youth leaders out there.

This is the post and perspective of Jeremy Zach, one of the many emerging voices….


My youth pastor blogging friend Dan Haugh over at www.emergingyouth.wordpress.com and I have been talking about somehow uniting  progressive youth pastors across the web.

Obviously, there is a stark polarity in the brands and breeds of youth pastor bloggers.  It is not rocket science detecting what youth pastors are pressing the envelope and what youth pastors don’t have a clue.  In my assessment the progressive youth pastor population is slim.  My point is that there are very few youth pastor 3.0.

The problem is:  the youth pastor 3.0 doesn’t have healthy outlets and networks where they can contribute ideas without getting called a heretic, an emotional basket case, and an outcast.  The youth pastor 3.0 needs spaces and platforms.  Of course, we have blogging which literally turns into a brutal UFC fight and only leaves the youth pastor 3.0 more pissed off with some blood on his/her knuckles.  Trust me, I am talking from a lot of youth pastor blogger brawling experience.

Even though I like pretending to be a tough guy on the web, there needs to be arenas and avenues for unchurched youth pastors to play and articulate their heretical ideas about youth ministry.

Possible steps to obtaining a youth pastor 3.0/emerging web network:

1.  Assemble youth pastor affinity networks all across the web that represents the geological landscape of the USA youth ministry.

–  I really like what firstthird.org is doing.  I really wish I could go and be apart of that, but times are tough.  Firstthird is a dialogue, at Luther Seminary with Dr. Root and Dr. Kenda Dean,about theology in youth ministry.

2.  Identify and clarify who are the youth pastors 3.0 blogging on the web

–  I wrote what I think are the themes of a new emerging 3.0 youth pastors here and here .  Here is a brief list of:  average youth ministry dudes and dudettes that I think get it:









Feel free to make any recommendations…..

3.  Brainstorms what a web network would look like for emerging youth pastors.  There has to be more out there….

Back to Dan…..

We would love to hear from you and continue to progress this discussion in the months to come.  The future is bright so its time to unite (hope you like my feeble attempt at cheesy cliches!)


Some words from Paul to youth pastors


Okay, I realize that youth ministry did not exist back in the early days of the church.  However, Timothy and a few other church leaders were probably in their late 20’s or early 30’s. Although, they likely would have been serving adults in their community.  Back then, the adolescent age group did not exist as it does today and there were no distinct ministries for age groups (which might have been a really good thing, helping keep the Body of Christ united and diverse and not separated and segregated as it is today).

Nonetheless, contrary to what you might be thinking, I am not going to quote and write about Paul’s instructions to Timothy (too familiar).

 I have something else in mind. 

I am taking out of context words written by Paul to a few churches.  (some good contextual exegesis this will not be!)

But as I read these words sipping my decaf coffee (what’s the point of decaf anyways…it’s kind of like ODoul’s beer!), I felt as if Paul’s words were speaking directly into my heart and addressing my ministry with students.  Hope you are ready for a little Bible Study time!

1 Thessalonians 2: 4-13

4On the contrary, we speak as men (youth pastors) approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

   As apostles (youth pastors) of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

 10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

 13And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.


vs. 8

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because so had become so dear to us.”

As youth pastors, we can relegate our ministry and calling to only preaching the gospel a few times a week.  We can stand up on some platform or sit on a stool and preach powerfully and effectively the word of God (and we should!). However, if our ministry and calling is only that, then there will also be a level of disconnect with our teens.  What they need and want is for us to “share our lives” with them. It will be in those moments of weakness, laughter, struggles, fear, faith, and simply journeying through life together, that students will be inspired the most.  Our students should become like family to us, not just a group of students we check off on our attendance sheets each week.  

Listen, I love preaching and teaching, but I love my students more. I would rather sit over coffee or have a group over for a cookout, then sit in some room and teach.  I don’t love youth ministry, I love my youth.  I cry when they hurt and am flooded with emotions when they are happy and well.  Now, as we share life together, the gospel becomes alive and the message all the more powerful and transformative.  

vs. 9

Sometimes ministry is a burden and, in order to stay in ministry, we have to labor and toil rigorously.  Ministry is not easy or comfortable and our students might just see the effort and hard work that it takes.  But we do so in love.  I know of many youth pastors who willingly are working 2-3 side jobs, just so they can stay at their church and with their students. Amazing!

vs. 10

We are called to live a holy and righteous life (albeit not perfect). Our students need examples of Christ likeness, deliverance from sin,and victory in following Jesus.  Many might not have any examples out there. As youth pastors, we have the calling and responsibility to practice what we preach (as best we can) and lead by example through our teachings and especially our lives.

vs. 11-12

I really love what Paul says in verses 11-12.  We are to deal with our students as a father (or older brother) deals with their own children.  Look at the words Paul uses:  encouraging, comforting, and urging (pleading).

That’s exactly what we do as youth pastors!

We encourage students who are struggling to find God, faith, hope, and love.  We encourage them through our prayers and support. We comfort those who are hurting, facing addiction, battling their demons of temptations, insecurity, fear, and self esteem. We comfort as parents.  

We urge and plead with them to love and obey God and seek His will for their lives.  We share from our experiences and stories and hope and pray that they can learn from us and not make the same mistakes we did at their age.  

We love and care about them so much, that (like Paul) we would do anything to know they there standing firm in the faith.

1 Corinthians 9

The Rights of an Apostle

1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?


 7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

   But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

 15But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

 19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.


I relate this entire chapter to being in ministry.  Paul is defending both his position and rights as an apostle.

For many of us, it feels like we are often defending our job title and description.  

What exactly do you do all day long? ”

“Should a youth pastor be paid a full time “pastoral” salary?”  

Those questions sound familiar perhaps?

Paul lays out a great argument for his rights, claiming “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

Take that Elder board!

However…Paul also said that he chose not to exercise those rights, feeling that those who made a living from ministry could fall into the trap of mixed motivations.  If he preaches voluntarily, than he has a greater reward (spiritually speaking).  

I tend to agree at some level. There have been times when I really didn’t want to do some things, but I had to because it was my job. I was getting paid to lead and lead I must.

 I have always had a tremendous respect for my volunteers and especially volunteer or part time youth pastors.  They work full time jobs and then in their free time, choose to go on youth retreats, lead small group meetings, teach Sunday school, and a whole host of activities.  So, for those of you reading this who are volunteers. Thank you.  You truly have a great reward.

For those of us privileged to get paid to do this, let’s not abuse our situation or take it for granted. How much more should we be doing because of the trust given to us!  Let’s look for opportunities to go above and and beyond and do things out of our job descriptions (of course for many of you about 80% of what you actually do in above and beyond what you signed up for!!!)

Find some area to volunteer in, because I really believe you will find much fulfillment and joy in doing so.

vs. 19-23

“I have became all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

In youth ministry we often switch hats and try to relate with different types of students. One day we are  a jock and the next into art and computers.  One week we sit and teach the Bible and pray with a group of solid teens and the next night our language might be a bit course and crude (to some) as we hang with a bunch of non churched kids.

For some students, externals are very important (what you say, wear, etc..), while to others not as much.

Paul was the master of cross cultural, contextual, and relevant ministry.  He thought, talked, and acted like a Jew when around them, and did the same around the Greeks when around them.  Now, if the Jews had saw Paul in that context, all hell would have broke loose! 

But Paul didn’t care.

 His heart’s desire and prayer was that through his love and actions, he might win the trust and favor of the people so that he might win some to Christ.  I think that gives us youth pastors permission to do the same.  Now, even though to some, Paul probably “sinned” while in some situations, he later states that his conscious was clear before God, so I highly doubt that participating in a kegger would be a good idea!

vs. 27

I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

As youth pastors, we can easily fall prey to hypocrisy.  Teaching one thing and either not doing it, or doing the opposite.  We must guard ourselves daily against this trap of the enemy. After all, he wants us to fall flat on our faces and to have all that we have taught become powerless.  Too many youth pastors teach on giving and then don’t tithe.  Too many will stand up and preaching against the dangers of lust and then go home and look at porn.

Listen, I know we are all human and prone to weakness.  We cannot be perfect, but we must be disciplined and self controlled against hypocrisy. We don’t want to be disqualified. 

Simply put, this is an admonition and challenge to daily practice what we preach.  And we may need to preach a whole lot more about confession and forgiveness.  We must run the race well for our students (and ourselves) and we must finish strong.

I hope you find these words of Paul inspiring and challenging as I did.

I leave you with these words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.



the Pastor in all of us

Last spring I graduated from seminary with my Master of Divinity.  Among the many congratulatory remarks I heard from family and friends was the question, “So, does this mean you can be a ‘real’ pastor now?

Almost everyone thought that upon graduation I would quickly pursue a different role in ministry, now that I had the experience and knowledge necessary to be a “real pastor”.

To back up, let me give you a quick snapshot of my ministry. I felt called into ministry towards the end of high school and decided to go to a Christian school. I knew I wanted to do youth ministry and so got involved at a local church during my freshman year. I graduated from a Christian liberal arts college with a double major in Biblical Studies and Theology and Youth Ministry (but to be very honest, my experience and internships at the church taught me much more than my classes).

Upon graduation I moved out to NY to start my journey as the church’s first full-time youth pastor.  With a year I was licensed by my denomination as as official “pastor”, which pretty much meant I could marry and bury people.  Sadly, I did my first funeral before my first wedding and it was a student who tragically died in a car accident. I am happy to say that I have done more weddings than funerals now.

Each year as I served at my church, various opportunities arose that stretched my ministerial horizons.  I lead an adult mission trip, did some counseling with parents, intervened in some family crisis situations, baptized people, etc…  A few years into the ministry, I realized that I was asked (and called) to do far more than organize youth group games, plan skits, and teach 15 minute lessons.  I began the process of being ordained in my denomination as a “Reverend” and also enlisted full time in seminary.  I remained committed to the youth ministry while growing in my knowledge and experience.  Clearly I was being trained and prepared to be a “Pastor”.

Now here is where the story gets interesting!

What I realized about half way through this process was that God was not preparing me for some future reality/role in ministry. Rather, God wanted me to grow and be stretched in this way for my current ministry.  I was getting ordained and receiving theologically education for my youth ministry and to help me be the best youth “pastor” I could be.

While I rarely break out the Greek in my youth lessons, the last few years has benefited me in tremendous ways in my personal and professional life.  The youth ministry has become much deeper and healthier.  I see myself much more than just a director of events or guy who likes to hang out with students and tell them about Jesus.

I realize now what I should have realized when I first arrived years ago.

I am a Pastor.

I used to envision the day where I would have the opportunity to lead my own church, i.e. oversee and train a staff, lead the church in spiritual formation, counsel, preach, teach, cast vision and strategically plan for growth (numeric and spiritual), do church-wide fasting, expose the members to deeper worship and meaningful service, and so on.

But I can be, and should be doing these things right now.  If we are truly called to be Pastors then our responsibilities and roles should be the same as if we were pastoring a church. We should take our calling just as seriously and with as much zeal, commitment, and passion.

The only difference is that we are leading students and not adults (primarily).

Friends, this view has revolutionized my ministry; from my philosophy to my daily approach.

As youth pastors, we are called to lead our congregation (youth group) into relationships with Jesus and deeper spiritual formation.  We teach, preach, counsel, recruit, cast vision, implement strategy, study, read, fast, and much more. Truthfully, any kind of theological education or broader ministry experience we can receive will only benefit us as youth pastors.

Whether you are a volunteer, part-time, call yourself a youth “worker” or “director”, we must be their pastors.  That is what our students need; that is what they are longing for.  They need guidance and spiritual direction that a pastor can give. And you do not need to have the word “pastor” in your title or job description to serve as their pastor.

Now if that particular word has bad connotation, then so be it.

We can change the word to anything we want, but we must not change the definition and responsibility that goes with it.

My title is Pastor of Student Ministries. I did not pick that title, it was given to me when I was hired. But the sad truth is that I did not fully embrace or step into that title until a few years ago. It really was upon my ordination as “Reverend Dan Haugh” that my eyes were opened to the reality and implications of my calling.


I am a pastor.

I am not a pastor of ministries however.

I am a pastor of students.

My MDiv. did not prepare me better for some long-term “real” position as pastor somewhere else and sometime down the road.

On the contrary, it prepared and equipped me to do what I should have been doing all along.

Whether you decide to pursue another degree or not, don’t let the pressure to be a “real pastor” tempt you away from what you can be doing right now….being a very real pastor to very real students.

They are much more than tomorrow’s church.  They are today’s church and you and I have the privilege of being their pastors.

So, step into your calling.  Embrace the pastor in you.

Rethinking and Redefining our roles as Youth Workers

I realize that the hot trend today is to call ourselves “youth workers”.  It seems to be a safer word than “pastor” in this day and age.  Using that word also helps us get credibility and find commonality with other youth ‘workers” such as teachers, coaches, and counselors.  We are all on the same team…that sort of thing.  I do believe that we must work closely with other adults and organizations interested in the well being of students, and I really do believe in the importance of a holistic approach to student development, growth, and maturation.

In the past, youth pastors have tended to focus solely on the “spiritual” aspect of the teenager, while often ignoring or avoiding the other aspects of their life. Somewhere along the way, their “soul” became much more important than their mind, body, and spirit (emotions).  We failed to see just how interconnected they are and failure to address these areas is a failure to address to true and full spiritual development of teens.

But at the same time, I have also seen the opposite take place.  Youth “workers” whether in churches or secular institutions work tremendously hard to bring mental, social, physical, emotional, and intellectual wholeness to teenagers. Yet, at the end of the day (or the end of their invested time with a particular student), nothing is ever said regarding their soul.  Now the problem arises when someone believes that a person’s “soul” or “spiritual” life is composed of all the above mentioned areas:

mind+body+spirit= soul


intellect+physical+emotional+social= spiritual

Again, I do believe that is correct to an extent, but I have found this model to be lacking in real transformation.

So, while it is all well and good for us to pursue health in those areas, we are called to more!

Whether you chose to define yourself as a youth “worker”, “leader”, “director”, or something else the bottom line is that we are all pastors.  This implies a radical new understanding of our roles and responsibilities.

We are not called simply to  direct activities and programs for students.  Clubs and after school programs do that.  We are called to the spiritual formation of students.

Whether you work at a church, club, organization, or school, we are all in youth work.  Yet, if we believe that God has called us towards this ministry, than our “work” takes on another added dimension. (more on this in a later post)

Now, in order to bring this kind of spiritual transformation and life change to teenagers, we must be willing to think creatively about our roles outside of the church and traditional parameters.

I do agree with much out there today about changing the spheres of influence and rethinking tradition roles.

Clearly a coach, teacher, or tutor will have much more interaction and time spent with students than a traditional youth pastor. In my area in New York, I am not even allowed to eat lunch with the students or be with them at flagpoles. (So I became a baseball coach and now have full access to the school!)

Also true is that students no longer flock to youth buildings or programs at churches (even if you have a sweet Rock Band set up).  Youth workers must be willing to go where the students are.

Hanging out at a local Starbucks, movie theater, or mall is a good start. That kind of exposure will help, but exposure with influence is much better. Volunteering as a coach, serving as a tutor, actually working at a local Starbucks…these are the kind of creative ‘out of the box’ roles and jobs that emerging youth workers will intentionally pursue.

Besides, some extra cash always helps as well!

However, emerging youth workers will gladly welcome and embrace any opportunity to serve the local community, not out of financial necessity but because of the unleashed potential.

I recently met with a church planter (former youth pastor of course!) who wanted to pick my brain about finding someone to work with the teens in his community. His church was around 100 people with only a small handful of students. They had no church building, no offices, and no meeting space for the youth.  His heart was to see the teens in his community not come to their church, but rather to be exposed to the love of Jesus on their turf.

So, his informal job description had this youth worker hanging out at football games, playing pool and paintball,  and spending time in arcades.  Even more astonishing was that rather than renting out the local Boys and Girls club some Friday evening for a “Youth Group event” (which probably would draw like 5 students), he envisioned the youth worker volunteering there and simply getting to know these students and building trusting relationships over time. In his mind, ministry would be the natural outflow of true friendships and relationships built over shared interests and activities over time.  Now there is a great model!

But for that particular community, I guarantee that approach will be far more effective and reaching than your typical youth outreach or youth “pastor” role. More students will be exposed to Jesus (through conversation and friendship) than if invited by the youth pastor to some event (because they would never go!)

But, the purpose behind this role is not to help students improve their basketball game and be more polite and respectable citizens. The hope is for them to meet and embrace the person and presence of Jesus and allow Him to transform their lives and futures.

I do believe that more than ever, youth leaders will not take on traditional roles in churches.

For one reason, with the economy the way it is, churches will be less likely to pursue full time youth pastors. A few collegues of mine recently have been demoted to part-time status because of the economy and have been forced to be bi-vocational.

But additionally, pastors simply do not have access to the places where students are…at least not here in the North East. As previously mentioned, I cannot simply show up during lunch with pizza to hang out with my students.

You may never get a student to step foot inside your church building, but if you can gain access and trust on their turf..than that’s a different story.

Youth leaders and workers need to be in the schools as teachers and counselors, on the athletic fields as coaches and serving in other capacities such as instructors and tutors.

Running after school programs, running a recreation league, volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, working at Starbucks..these are where emerging youth leaders must be found…that is truly where the greatest impact will happen.

But we must always remember the reasons why we are there.  To love, serve, and introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ.

Why Youth Pastors make the best Senior Pastors

Here is what I personally think.

Youth pastors make the best senior pastors. ( I know I am bias!)

As youth pastors, we spend our time doing a host of things that spam the gamut of ministry.

We are constantly meeting with students and parents, counseling, talking, listening, praying, and mentoring.

Youth pastors are about relational ministry.

We also spend time actively involved in our local communities, finding creative ways to bless our area and make a difference. From community blood drives, free car washes, serving at food pantries, or park clean ups…

youth pastors are about engaging our communities

We spend time preparing lessons, teaching bible studies, and preaching. We try very hard to make the Word of God relevant, understandable, and practical to our students. We desire not only for them to learn more (obtain more knowledge) but to live more (follow Jesus).

Youth pastors are about the proclamation of God’s word in real, relevant, experiential ways

We spend time assembling volunteer teams to help our students grow spiritually. We find people to complement us and fill the voids where we are weak.  We see the value and need for shared leadership and accountability and utilizing others gifts, passion, and callings for the blessing of all.

Youth pastors are about team building and shared leadership.

We spend time trying to connect with other youth pastors, going on retreats and mission trips with other youth groups,and trying to get our students to see they are part of a much bigger family than simply our group. We (hopefully) don’t compete with other youth groups, nor try to monopolize a certain area or demographic. We partner and join together with youth groups of all denominations, seeing both strength in number and the rich value of diversity.

Youth pastors are about networking and kingdom building across denominational lines.

We spend time in God’s word and in prayer with others, because we realize we have no clue what we are doing, and realize the enormous task which we are called to. We never fully “arrive’ as youth pastors and are always looking for new ideas, casting vision, and finding creative ways to increase the effectiveness of our ministry.

Youth pastors are dependent on God’s strength for everything we do, and are not ashamed to be life-long learners.

We often get criticized and reprimanded for speaking our mind, pushing the envelope, and asking tough questions that ruffle feathers (usually of the old birds!). However, we do so because God is stirring us to think differently, think of those who do not yet know Jesus, and because we are attempting to discern where God is leading the church in the future.

Youth pastors think big picture and are not afraid to rock the boat.

As Mike Yacconeli advocated, youth pastors are not afraid to get fired for the glory of God!

But things seem to change when the title “senior” pastor gets slapped on someone.

Of course, none of us are perfect youth pastors. I continually fail and fall flat on my face in many of these areas. But as I continue to meet and dialog with youth leaders around the world, I see these things resonating and permeating our ministries.

Please, don’t let time or a change in role or title change your passions and callings.

I have seen it too many times. There should be a TV series called “Youth pastors gone bad”, documenting the unfortunate changes so often accompanied with transitions into lead pastors.

Now, for many of us, youth ministry will be our career. But for some, God may be preparing you for an eventual transition to lead pastor. But don’t be alarmed or afraid, because I do believe that youth pastors can be the best lead pastors.  The emphasis of course is on the word can.

My hope and prayer is that the things we strive for now will remain consistent over the years. May the worries and stress of “big church’ and ever increasing demands of adults not squelch the fire the burns within us.

I hope that this generation of youth pastors (future “Senior” pastors) will work together to redefine those roles and break apart some, if not all of those stereotypes.  For those who will eventually make this transition (and possibly the number will decrease with each new generation), make the transition with hope, courage, and faith.

And even if twenty years from now, we are wearing loafers and don’t understand the newest technologies, may we still be about the things we are about today.!


What’s on your profile?


I have realized since newly joining the Facebook phenomena, that I am connecting with many youth pastors across the globe, keeping up with my students of past and present, talking with family members, and reconnecting with childhood friends and high school classmates. By the way, I just had my 10 year reunion and am amazing how time has changed things!  For some for the better, but for others….

But what this entity of Facebook has taught me is that I am very conscious about how others view me…and rightfully so.

I am all into the “pastor” profile thing, displaying my religious and political views and posting links, videos, and photos about my ministry.

Yet, when one of my baseball players from school wants to befriend me, I become very aware at what my profile is screaming out out to them…”Hey I am one of those tight a@# Christian pastors!  Want to be my friend so I can convert you?”

And when some old friends from Jr. high and high school discover me, what is the first impression I want to make?

Now, I want to make this clear, I am not ashamed of who I follow and what I do.

Yet, i am very leery about shutting the door too soon (possibly because of false conceptions), and not allowing a genuine friendship to occur.

If these new Facebook friends think I am solely out to convert them, then how much of an authentic relationship will I have with them?

At the same time, I must also be very careful with what I post to these non-religious friends, because my youth group students are always watching!

And by the way students, I am always watching you and have been appalled by some of the comments and photos you post!

While at times ignorance is bliss (for a parents and youth pastors alike!),  I don’t want my students to think the same about me.

I don’t want them to think, “I wish I never knew that about Dan”, or to somehow have their respect of me diminished by what they see or read on Facebook.

Of course the easy solution (which I happily agreed to for years) was simply to not register on Facebook and basically stay out of the web of social networking.

But I must admit that times are changing, and with it come new and great opportunities for relationships and conversations that would have otherwise never occurred.

So…I am now on Facebook

But back to my stated dilemma.

I cannot lie or hide things,  nor should I have to.

Here is what I am convinced of:

As youth pastors and leaders, we should have the freedom to be ourselves and be real, understanding that God is always at work on us chipping away the rough edges of our lives.

If things come up from my past and magically “appear” on Facebook, then I own up to my past and teach a lesson from it.

And if I allow myself to be put in  a tempting situation now (and am stupid enough to let someone take a picture of it) then shame on me.

I need to take a long hard look at who I spend time with, what I spend time doing, and where my priorities are. Remember, we are no longer in high school or college (for most of us) and should not act like we are.  We are called to minister to these students, and in order to do so effectively, there must be a certain level of maturity that comes with the responsibility.

Now, because of a level of disconnect, I have a few students who will not let me see their profile, and I am still wrestling with where the line between pastor and friend needs to be.

But again, we cannot control what our students post, we can only lead by example and keep praying for them and encouraging them to take a good look at the person they are portrayed to be online.

So, as we all have probably given a lesson to our students about watching what they put on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook,I find myself asking the tough question

What’s on my profile?

It is an accurate portrayal of who I am and the person God is forming me to be?

Do I present myself to friends, family, students, colleagues, and strangers in a way that will not run them off, but will rather offer hope and inspiration?

Do my list of friends all reside within my private circle of Christians?  Is my profile full of “Christianese” language hard to understand by anyone outside of my circle?

As youth pastors, we have a very complex role and unique identity. On the one hand, we are called to help spiritually develop young people and what we do and say should be a reflection of that.

On the other hand, as followers of Jesus we are issued the call to reflect God’s love and message to those who do not yet know His love.  I believe that in everything we do, we must be mindful of those not part of our “Christian” circle.

And we are also friends, family members, neighbors, coaches, teachers, community workers, colleagues, and much more.

May our lives, actions, teachings, and attitudes reflect these callings and identities.

May we be mindful that eyes are always watching and ears listening to what, and how, we say things?

May we live within this vast complexity as authentic followers of Jesus, proud to know the One who has given us our hope and life, while keeping an open door for those who do not yet know Christ.

And may our Facebook profiles be just an mirror image of our lives on display.

a youth pastor’s impressions from the presidential inauguration

(this video was created for my class on Teen Spirituality for parents last spring, but it fits in every well. Listen to  Obama’s famous ‘yes we can” speech and also notice the written words)

Where were you when President Obama was sworn in?  I am sure that years from now we will all remember this moment. It truly marks an historic occasion for our nation and possibly the world, and perhaps is a sign of things to come for those of us in ministry.

Now, whether you woke up the day after the inauguration with hope and renewed enthusiasm, or if you woke up in complete disbelief and despair, may indicate whether you voted for Obama or not.

I am not much of a political analyst, but I do believe that no matter who you voted for or what your particular political beliefs may be, now is the time to support and pray for our new leader.

After listening to many of the debates over the past few months, watching the elections, and now taking a few hours on Tuesday to watch the inauguration of the first African American president, I have observed a few things that may or may not impact ministry in the future.

1. We are truly living in unprecedented and changing times.

During the presidential election, one of the CNN correspondents keenly observed that the face of American culture is transitioning to a much more moderate to liberal position.  Obama was able to sway the popular vote in many suburbs that have previously been Republican.

One political analyst remarked, “Barack Obama does not transcend race, rather we are living in a post-race America.”  In many ways America is becoming post-race, post-denominational, and post-Christian. The things that used to divide us are becoming fewer and fewer…and I am not so sure that is a bad thing.

Personally, I believe that over the next 5-15 years, the shift from red to blue will sweep across the nation. Some may argue against that and others may weep at America’s “moral degradation and ethical demise”.  However, it should be note the higher % of Catholics and evangelical Christians who voted for Obama and the growing shift toward the blue by the next generation of Christians.

Obama noted in inauguration speech that America is made up of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists. Yet, if we all strive for peace, we may be united as one.

Emergents reveal is this kind of talk, thinking that if we can just get by religions barriers, we could actually accomplish something good. Diversity is accepted and embraced in this new political regime and perhaps it should be in ministry as well…of course to a certain extent. But I am convince that for too long we have leaned much too far in the other direction. Those of other religions, lifestyles, and even political viewpoints have been shunned by many “Christian” and evangelical ministries and…yes youth pastors.

2. Barack is striving towards peace and prosperity…and so should our ministries.

I have heard two very contrasting views from members of seemingly opposite Christian views.

On the one hand, emergents view this as living out the words of Jesus and having God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It is a prayer that God’s people would be a blessing to all nations and that together, the world would be healed and restored.  Obama’s rhetoric speaks with optimistic  hope and passion that this may become a reality..at least within America.

On the other hand, some fundamental Christians will say (and I am not joking) that the book of Revelation speaks of the an-Christ doing just these things by ushering in a reign of peace, unity, and prosperity. And then of course, things only go downhill from there.

So which is it?

3. Our nation is becoming more diverse and tolerant.

There does seem to be great diversity and tolerance now, certainly along racial lines (good) and across religious lines (we shall see)

I suppose that Christians need to act more like Jesus than the judgmental Pharisees.

But how united can Christians and Muslims actually be?

I do think it is time we Christians learned from our past mistakes (crusades!),

and started reaching out in love, hope, and faith to those not yet Christ followers.

Perhaps they never will be.

Perhaps they will always stay our bitter enemies

but you know what Jesus said about your enemies….

4. Our nation’s leadership is getting younger.

Barack is a very young president and though he lacks the experience of someone older, his charisma, passion, and enthusiastic zeal for change in contagious with the “emerging” generation.

Forever in this country (and in church leadership), youth has been largely ignored. But I have a feeling that is going to change. Hey even the Pittsburgh Steeler’s coach is now the youngest coach to ever make it to the Superbowl (and he also happens to be African American)

Companies, sports teams, and governmental offices are looking for younger and ambitious people hoping for change.  Sounds like your typical youth pastor!

Perhaps churches will get on board with these changing times and start actually valuing the opinion of their youth pastors, rather than just sticking them in some basement to babysit students.

Perhaps God is speaking through the next generation…before we grew too old.

Perhaps our time is now!

Our time to voice out for the emerging generation and have our opinions heard and matter.

What does this all mean for youth ministry?

For starters, I hope that youth ministries will be taken more seriously in the near future. As young ministers, God has given us a voice, ambition, and a vision for hope and change. All we need is the right platform.

And more than ever, we must start to realize that we are helping develop the future leaders of our nation and our world..and for some of them that could start fairly soon.  It will probably happen closer to their 30’s than their 60’s like in times past.

Also, perhaps we should have more students in our programs who are post-Christian and perhaps part of another religion. As our nation grows more diverse and (hopefully) united, maybe our communities could do the same. And what better place for that to start than in the church and our youth ministries!

True these “different” students may influence the group?

But couldn’t the group influence them?

I think youth ministries in the past have been known by what we are not and who we are not

rather than what we are becoming. A new community of humans changed by Jesus and living out the story of God in our day.

As President Obama exclaimed, we cannot stand for “anything goes” anymore.

We need accountability and we need to stand up for what is true and just.

But I am becoming more convinced that we must also stand up and work towards peace, reconciliation, and a hopeful and hope-filled eschatology.

*As the video portrayed (which you really should watch if you have not yet)

In this ever changing environment, the lines are getting fuzzy for adolescents.

right vs. wrong

who’s in and who’s out

spiritual vs. christian

religious vs. atheist

But maybe some of this is a good thing.

Maybe we as youth pastors need to start looking beyond the differences and start looking toward the similarities.

After all, we claim we believe the origins stories from Genesis.

God created all of his children is his image?

Yes the Fall did occur and we see that in every aspect of life.

But a hope-filled viewed is determined to look at people through the Designer’s eyes. Not what these students have become, but what they were intended to be and could yet become.

As the lines get fuzzier and come towards a center, perhaps a more accurate picture will be displayed…that of a human being, created in the image of a God who loves them and who desperately wants a relationship with them.

In final retrospect of the election…

Rather than trying to fight against the coming tide (which some may attempt to do), I believe we must acknowledge where we are heading in America.  Our nation is following in the footsteps of our birth parents…the European nations and is thrusting forward into postmodernity.

Take the North East for instance. If the general culture is moving away from certain ideologies, “modern” worldviews, and modes of thought, what shall become of the church if it holds ground?

Now, I am not advocating for compromise, but for a shift in the way the church sees itself and its place in society.

I hope that we can try to see what God is doing in our county and how He might be already at work to bring about some of these positive changes…and try to get on board.

Listen, if our faith is not strong enough to remain and grow within postmodernity, then how strong was it really? The amazing thing about our faith is that it has always been able to morph, adopt, and adapt to changing times.

So, as we enter into this new period of history, let us pray for wisdom, and seek to partner with God as he continues to bring restoration, redemption, justice, and reconciliation to our society and world.

If we advocate first for a change of worldview, principles, ideologies, beliefs, and practices, than that requires a  great deal of change before a student can even belong or fit in with a youth group!

If we stick to that philosophy, I am not sure there will be very many students left in the North East (and eventually America) who will actually fit in as they are.  Perhaps Belonging must come first and Belief will follow.

As the great songwriter Bob Dylan once sang, “The times…they are a-changing”

Will youth pastors embrace the changing times and partner with God or will we hold fast and fight against the evils of “liberalism” and postmodernity and wait until God does something about it?

Which option is more proactive?

Which is more hopeful?

Which will seek to bring the gospel of Jesus to more people?

In closing…

Now, I realize that our new president stands on some ethical principles that I personally do not agree with. Yet, many of his views and beliefs resonate with me and I believe are kingdom principles.  Reformed health care, taking care of the poor and needy, educating those in need, asking for accountability for our actions and decisions, being a good steward of our money, promoting equality and unity across all lines, not showing favoritism to the wealthy and elite, etc..

You will find these in the life and teachings of Christ and these also have been a trademark of churches (and mission trips) for a long time. If our nation is truly in a time of crisis, than we need God’s kingdom to reign here more than ever. American has truly become a “mission field”, so let’s join together (ideally churches and our government) to bring about much needed change.

I don’t know about you, but I watched the 2009 presidential inauguration with great excitement and hope. I don’t know what the future holds, but I choose to be optimistic and see how God may already be at work in our nation to bring about his purposes.

Looking at it the other way around (that our nation is slowly going to hell in a hand basket) is depressing to me. Now, it may very well be true, but if it is I am going to fight with every last breath to bring this place back to God’s original intent.

I want to see God’s handiwork and presence saturated all around me and even in the policies and structures of our newly elected government.

I will do my part, and who knows, maybe together will we truly see change.

With God’s help…yes we can!

And whether you are a Democratic or Republican, voted for Obama or not, I hope you choose like I have to now support our new President with prayer during this time of transition and new beginnings.