A youth pastor friend of mine recently had his budget cut because he spent too much on tacos for some students one night. Another was run out of his job at a small church because parents wanted him to spend more time playing games and developing activities for his students than teaching them the Bible.
It seems like churches are always trying to find a balance in their student ministries between teaching and fun. Sadly, many youth pastors get caught in a trap between parishioners on one side who feel that fun and learning are mutually exclusive, and parents on the other who prefer to have their children entertained rather than taught anything significant.
No wonder the average tenure of a youth pastor in American churches is something like 18 months.
Activities like the Youth Week event I’m speaking at in Chesapeake, Va., this week are a perfect demonstration of the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to make a choice between serious teaching and serious fun. In fact, if you do it right, it doesn’t even become about achieving some kind of balance between fun and learning. It is entirely possible to do both at the same time.
What makes it work is attitude. The attitude of pastors, youth leaders, parents and students are all critical components. Youth leaders have to have clear expectations and communicate them to their kids. Parents have to buy in to what the leaders are trying to do and, most importantly, be present both for their children and for their youth staff. Students have to be teachable. And pastors have to give their leaders the space to work creatively while providing moral and spiritual support without suffocating them.
Yesterday’s “Whacky-Tacky Wednesday” here at Aldersgagte was a great example of these principles at work. Many of the kids who attended dressed in goofy costumes for our worship and teaching sessions today. Even the worship band, some of the parents and leaders, and even this grizzly old guest speaker got in on the act. We learned. We served. We worshipped. And we had a blast.
Church leaders, don’t hamstring your youth staff by either forcing out the fun or, worse yet, making it so overly-contrived and orchestrated as to render it inauthentic. Parents, allow your church to actually teach your kids something. Trust me, they can take it.
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Churches should be the first place our students learn that lesson, not the last.