Last year, our church was presented a great opportunity. Our youth pastor was transitioning into another role at our church and we were charged with re-imagining what youth ministry could look like in our context. The charge was daunting and exhilarating.
I firmly believe that any transition is an opening to re-envision what we are currently doing and how we might want to approach things differently. However, this is a scary process because it begs identification of sacred cows, failures, inherent dysfunctions, and will require a longer transition from the old to the new. This is messy and time-consuming…and so freeing! This re-envisioning process also opens up the possibilities to recalibrate to even greater Kingdom impact and influence. We opted for the messy, long-way-round and it uncovered an entirely new thing for us.
The process began with an urging from my boss, the lead pastor of our church, to present a “Future of Youth Ministries” proposal. After consulting with a few youth ministry gurus I respected that know me and our church [including Marko!], we put a plan into motion. We compiled a proposal which included: youth ministry realities in our context, our current reality overview, an assessment of the past 5 years of ministry, assessment of annual programs and events [including past events we’ve quit], future values and structure proposal, and a proposed practical future. Over the course of several weeks, I put together this 8-page document in partnership with our transitioning youth pastor. It was complete with statistics, graphs, bullet point evaluations, and concise vision for our future. Was it time consuming? Absolutely! Was it a great use of time? Beyond a doubt!
This systematic yet creative process led us down a road and presented ideas that I never would have imagined if I simply tweaked our youth pastor job description. In the end, we determined, we could not hire another youth pastor.
We had to hire a Student Integration Pastor.
After Marko heard our new position title and read through the job description, he merely posted the title of the job on his Facebook status and in a matter of hours, his Facebook was lit up with excitement, skepticism, and curiosity. The intrigue quietly stoked my fire that, in fact, the Holy Spirit was on to something with us in this newly envisioned role.
One of the first dogmatic statements we made to our church staff and in the hiring process was that we were NOT hiring a youth pastor. That job title came with very clear ideas of what this person would do and not do. We needed to re-envision our community toward what this person would be responsible for and the vision of our church toward youth. We were asking our Student Integration Pastor to do a new thing.
What was our guiding philosophy for a Student Integration Pastor?
- They had to be a 3rd culture person, having the “mindset and will to love, learn, and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort”. This “new way” would be uncomfortable and painful for our church who have been used to a generation of traditional youth ministry.
- We wanted to go headlong into an intergenerational approachto youth ministry. As an Advisory Council member of Fuller Youth Institute, our church has been digging into their Sticky Faith (stickyfaith.org) research for nearly 4 years. And we believe in it.
- 2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:12 became guiding Scriptures for us as to what we believe about youth and the church.
- Mutuality, Intentionality, and Meaningful Togetherness – Yes, students need age-appropriate gatherings and training, but this should be the exception, not the rule. We believe in an age appropriate version of the broader church vision and practice so students can transition into the broader church post-graduation.
Our Student Integration Pastor is to contribute to and collaborate with the broader church for meaningful, intentional, and mutual ways to connect students to the Church.
- Relational and regional, not programmatic and segmented.
- Collaborative and Big Picture – In all things, we would look at ways the entire church was at work, growing and being developed, and consider how that might intersect with our students.
- Champion for teenagers – Lead banner-waver reminding our church of their responsibility of spiritually forming teenagers, not just the youth ministry’s job.
At first, we felt a lot of resistance and skepticism that this was just a trendy title for the same-ol’ thing. Many of the faithful didn’t even believe in what we were doing, but we kept casting vision, praying for God to bring the right leader (Joshua 1), and sharing stories of a future hope. Four months into this new position and it clearly is a new thing. Yes, programs and events have changed. But it’s the focus, the time reallocation, the ways we talk about youth ministry that’s the real difference.
It’s changing our church in so many ways. With a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I’m glad we didn’t hire a youth pastor for this new season of ministry at our church.