The search for a new youth pastor can be daunting for a church body, especially when trying to figure out how to keep nurturing the youths’ relationships with Christ. As a teenager, it’s typical to feel abandoned and hurt even if the previous youth minister left on good terms. As an adult the same emotions can be experienced, but it’s more common to feel overwhelmed with the reality of trying to keep the youth ministry alive. I’ve experienced both sides of this equation several times, and there are concepts the church body needs to be aware of to help the youth successfully make the transition.
1. Within reason, be truthful with the cause(s) for the previous leader’s departure. Many kids these days have already faced tremendous loss, whether it be family issues, financial difficulties, or other tough situations. Trying to hide, or mask, the real reason will only hinder the youth’s progress toward healing. Plus, the group probably already knows at least pieces of the real situation, so bringing everything to light will discourage gossip and miscommunication. While it certainly may be uncomfortable for the adults who step in to tell them the truth, it’s what anyone would deserve. Tell them what they need to know (not necessarily everything they want to know), and be sure to include the youths’ parents in the conversation.
2. Make an effort to listen to the youth’s opinions. I’ll never forget the first time I was on a search committee and we brought in a guy that none of the kids really preferred. His different teaching style and unique personality made it hard for the group to relate to him. I made the assumption that the kids were merely being petty and spiritually immature, but it turned out they actually had the guy pegged. The concerns they voiced early in the process came up later with other church members after we had already hired him…and after most of the kids had left the church. So, having routine discussions about the desired qualities of a new youth pastor is a great idea. Just be sure to keep the topic light and productive without “roasting” the previous leader.
3. Get the youth involved in the search for their new leader. You could pick one or two upstanding youth to provide input in making major decisions such as choosing which candidates to interview. Or, you could send out surveys that ask the youth to anonymously, yet biblically, critique candidates. But at the very least, the youth need to be given routine updates on how the search is going, even if there is no new information. Ask them to continue to pray for God to move the right person toward the position and for the church leaders to accurately discern His will. If the youth know they have a part in the decision making, then they will less likely feel they are being neglected by the church.
4. Increase attempts to mentor the youth. And I’m not talking about another responsibility for the lead pastor (unless he’s willing); it’s up to adult church members to volunteer to help if God is leading them to do so. For example, in our church’s most recent youth pastor search, the member who stepped in to substitute for Wednesday night bible study was already a youth helper for that night. The kids knew him, he had a good connection with them, and the church members trusted him. However, that’s not to say other members who aren’t already involved with youth shouldn’t help too. During the same time an older gentlemen taught the class on Sunday mornings, and the kids loved him! He brought prospective, made the lessons relatable to the youth, and was thoroughly skilled at keeping everyone on track with the discussion. In addition, it’s even more important for church members to take the youth “under their wings” in the absence of a youth pastor. Almost instantly after our previous youth pastor left, I felt the Lord leading me to minister to the young ladies in the group. I already had a relationship with most of them, so the Lord gave me the heart to reach out to them and mentor them as young ladies in Christ. Still others in the church can reach out to individual youth. The beautiful thing about God’s church is a lot of times the answer to a present need will be met by someone already in our midst. So, look around the church body and see who is being called to fill the void for the youth.
5. Remain harmonious as a church body. It’s easy enough for adults to get frustrated or disheartened with the task, but it’s even easier for the youth to lose their grip. Being a solid foundation in the face of adversity will help show the youth a mature, biblical response to trials. This includes our responses to one another. We know that anywhere humans are involved (yes, including Christians), there will be disagreements. Remember the eyes that are on you any time you feel tempted to criticize the search efforts or someone else’s opinion of a candidate.
6. Don’t take it personally when youth leave the church, despite your best efforts. Continue to pray for all the youth, including those who have left. Ask God to lead them to another church body who can support their growth in Christ. The simple fact is some are going to leave, but the benefits of persevering will far outweigh the loss of numbers. When a church is deliberate in ministering to the youth, regardless of how long it takes to find a new youth leader, there will still be some spiritually strong youth ready to lead their peers.
The Lord will bring your church to victory! Seek Him, pray for the youth, and be a reflection of Christ to the young people in your midst.
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