Do You Need A Youth Pastor?
by Dennis Steeger
There are only two correct answers to this question, yes and eventually. If your ministry does not currently employ a youth pastor then the answer is yes. If you desire to position your church to grow and if you want your church to last more than one generation then having a youth pastor is not an option it is a necessity.
If you currently have a youth pastor, the answer is eventually. No one stays in one position forever. This is especially true for youth pastors. The average tenure for a youth pastor is just 14 months. One day your current youth pastor will vacate their position and you will have to go through the exciting process of hiring their replacement.
Ministry is a lot like marriage. Ministry isn’t marriage because you are not in a “til death do you part” relationship. However, both parties should be in it for the long haul! Asking for a 5-year commitment is where I would start.
Why should you ask for a five-year commitment? I have seen that it takes at least two years to truly build trust and credibility with students and their parents. Approximately two years is when you can expect to see the true dividends of your investment.
Agreeing to a 5 year commitment is a tall order for the current 20-something crowd who will change careers SEVEN TIMES in their 20s. So before you ask them for that commitment, you should ask yourself a question: “Can I see myself joyfully serving, living and working with them for the next five years?” If the answer is yes, you may have found the next great addition to your dream team.”
Choosing the right candidate to join your team, one who will oversee a mission critical ministry is one of the most perplexing tasks a senior leader will encounter. In my 26 years of directing a student ministry, I was responsible for hiring 14 individuals who served in key ministry roles.
Many of those individuals were incredibly successful while a one or two were dismal failures. Interestingly all 14 staff members happened to share a common denominator…me. I hired all of them. I had chosen them. With each selection, I learned a lot about the process of hiring.
Staff relationships can be challenging, so going in both parties should have a desire for longevity as it creates stability and credibility in your ministry. Long relationships are good for your staff and your church. Creating stability and credibility are not rushed along—they take time.
I believed that each person I hired was going to be a win for our staff when I hired them. When the person turned out to be a good fit for our staff, it was great for our ministry. Hundreds of teenagers and their families were well cared for, our ministry flourished and our people served with increased joy. Challenges were easier to handle, we seemed to navigate obstacles with much less effort. It was easier…better. We were a team, a family.
When I hired poorly, it had a profoundly detrimental effect on our ministry and it affected us for years. Long after these individuals left our church, we continued to pay a price. It took considerable effort and energy to regain what we had lost. I discovered that hiring the wrong person was not a static proposition. We were losing ground not standing still. We were digging ourselves a big hole. Everything was more challenging. The relationships among the staff were tense and strained. We were like a married couple getting a divorce. It was painful, awkward, and stressful.
Needless to say, hiring isn’t a science, it more of an art with some science mixed in. The art is the prayer, leading of the Spirit, the inner sense you feel about a person. Generally, I would say to trust your first impression about the likability factor. All of the people I hired I liked. Ministry is too hard to do without doing it with people you love. If you don’t like them no matter how qualified they are they are not a good fit for you.
It’s a science because there are certain demonstrated abilities, habits and characteristics that you can observe to determine if they are able to perform the job well. Dependability, flexibility, creativity, longevity can all be gauged with a fair degree of accuracy if you will take the time to look for them.
Here Is What You Are Up Against
As I mentioned earlier, the average tenure of a youth pastor in the United States is approximately 14 months. I want you pause to think about that. In the span of only one year, if you hire the wrong person, you will be looking to hire someone new to fill that position again.
The departure of the current youth pastor, makes the task of the new(yet to be hired) youth pastor more difficult. If you are lucky, you might find someone that stays with you for 3 years. The rarity, I’m talking choosing the winning lottery ticket rare, is that you would find someone to stay with you for 10 years or longer. Those people are out there…it takes someone special to spot them and to be able to grow with them.
Before You Start Interviewing Candidates
Because we are talking about hiring and youth ministry, I want you to encourage senior leaders and decision makers to enter this process with your eyes wide open. The challenges of hiring key team members can be formidable. With prayer and a bit of pragmatism the selection process can be less overwhelming. Here are a few thoughts that I believe will be beneficial to you through the selection process.
- Clarify your expectations. Knowing what you are looking for is the first and most important step in the process. What kind of experience, training, education requirements are you seeking? Does your compensation package fit the candidate’s experience? Are you looking for a full time person, part time or volunteer? Hiring is not like shopping. The “I’ll know it when I see it” strategy does not work when it comes to adding key staff members to your team.
- Consider a search team. The bible tells us that there is “safety in a multitude of counselors”. It is always good to have an extra set of eyes on potential candidates before you hire them. There has been many times that my wife has seen something differently or from another perspective that I had not even considered and it saved me a lot of self inflicted misery.
Key staff members have given me additional insight that has proven invaluable over the years! Fellow ministry friends have provided great counsel and wisdom that saved me from making a bad decision that could have set our ministry back for years!
You can form your own team or you could choose a search firm to help with the selection process. If you choose to go with your own team, you will need to select capable individuals to assist in the process.
After you have selected the team members, allow them adequate time to learn how to search and select potential candidates. Most church search committees have little or no experience in vetting potential candidates. Be diligent in the screening process. Avoid the inclination to rush the process. Give the search team the necessary guidelines to guide them as they narrow the candidates down to a select few.
- Determine to hire the right person not just a person. Refuse to settle for someone who is not quite who you are looking for is the best piece of advice I can offer you when it comes to hiring. If you have not come across the person you are searching for keep looking. It will save you time, money and heartache. Hiring the wrong one is worse than having no one. Go back and read the statement again. Trust me.
- Don’t make your decision too quickly. Give it time, run their references. Talk about it among your staff, board members and other decision makers. Take an extra week or two and really allow yourself time to process all that you have learned about the person you wish to hire.
- Consider the 3 C’s.
Culture, compatibility and capability will make up the bulk of your selection process. You should only choose those candidates who score high in all three of these areas. Capability tells you if they can do the job. Culture and compatibility will tell you how long they can do it!
- Capability. Does the candidate have the right mix of skills, aptitude and experience for you? All churches are different and depending on what season your church is in, you might want a rookie youth pastor. You church may be in a place where you need an experienced veteran. The point here is to adjust your expectations as to the skills, aptitude and experience are your church needs.
- Culture: Can they mix well in the current culture of your ministry? They say that opposites attract. That makes for an exciting relationship not necessarily an effective one. For instance, if you have a very disciplined organization, a highly creative person may have difficulty adapting well into your culture. Staff meetings at Starbucks may not be your cup of tea, but for the highly creative person it could be ministry nirvana!
Conversely, a highly disciplined person may have trouble adjusting to the culture if you live in a highly creative environment. Your 9am staff meeting that doesn’t get started until 9:12am is likely to drive the highly disciplined person crazy.
This is not to say that disciplined and creative people cannot co-exist, you just need to be aware that there could be some difficulties in meshing personalities and cultures.
Choosing a person who fits your culture is like oil in an engine…it makes everything run smoother!
- Compatibility. Amos 3:3 “How can two walk together except the be agreed?” Do you share a common vision for your ministry? Do you share a dream for your church? This is HUGE. Do you have common goals and expectations? Do you like them personally; can you get along well with them and their personality? Do you trust them? It’s not so important that they be like you but it is important that they do like you, and that your feelings are reciprocal.
These are a few things I have learned that helped me along my journey of hiring staff. I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
Dennis Steeger is a 30 year youth ministry veteran. He served as the youth pastor at Grace Outreach Center in Plano TX for 26 years. He is an adjunct professor of Youth Ministry at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas TX. He also coaches youth ministers and provides consulting services for churches that desire to develop more effective youth ministries.
If you want more information or desire further assistance about how to build a successful youth ministry or the consulting services that are available, you can contact Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org.