Spiritual Daycare: Why Youth Pastors Shouldn’t Exist

Let’s get right to it…Spiritual Daycare

Do we really need youth pastors?

Are they necessary?

Are they truly helpful?

These are rather taboo questions in the context of current church culture. I grew up hearing the mantra “the kids are our future” and rightly so, but is the youth pastor and children’s church adequate means for preparing our future generation?

I sincerely think not.

I’m a thirty-something who has grown up in churches where youth pastors were a given. The job description was always the same and went something like this…

“…to teach the youth about Jesus and render encouragement through culturally relatable means as a preparatory method for growth into adult life with a hearty focus on outreach through relevance and entertainment.”

On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. What could be better than catering to the demographic that matters most to the future of the church? It sounds reasonable. Additionally, I have yet to meet a church going parent that actively desires their child to leave the church. So parents and church leaders agree that it is necessary to bring up our children in the faith, and as you may have guessed, the bible agrees (Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4 come to mind). For what it’s worth, I too agree that we should bring up our children in the faith. There should be purposeful instruction.

So what’s my issue with youth pastors you ask?

Before I begin to answer the question, let me first set the stage. It may not be a shock to many, but as a youth, I attended youth group for three reasons…

1. My parents made me.

2. I actually enjoyed socially interacting with my peers.

3. Girls were present.

While I may be an anomaly, I would venture to say that a majority of cultural Christian youth attended for similar reasons.  It also didn’t hurt that while light, topical bible study did occur, the primary focus was outreach through entertainment. From bowling alley lock-ins to amusement park adventures, it was rather easy to get my unsaved friends to go to the fun events. They usually weren’t pressured with the message of Christ, and more often than not I worked hard to show them how “normal” I was (as if Christian and normal are mutually exclusive). I knew the youth pastor was trying his best and meant well, but I also knew he was a caricature of what focus groups said drew kids to church. Even though I was on to the tactic, I willingly played along because I really thought it was the proper way to win souls and grow the church. As I grew older the true state of this methods ineffectiveness began to rise to the surface as my unsaved friends became more coy and resistant to my outreach attempts. They saw through the facade and stared at the heart of the perceived loving manipulation tactic and recoiled while shaking their heads with contempt. They knew what church was supposed to be and saw the conflict. They also knew that the fun and games were a trap (a poorly constructed trap at that). As I got older, the only unsaved friends that showed any interest in coming were those interested in pursuing a “relationship” with a certain boy or girl in the youth group. The argument from the youth leadership was that if we’d just get them in the door, then they’d hear the gospel and possibly make a decision for Jesus or something like that. Most of the time, the talks were light, fluffy and centered on self-help life lessons. Anytime the study waded to the deep end, the lessons focused on law centered warnings. In any case, the gospel was glaringly absent. In the end the bait and switch was really just bait and release (or bait, beat and release). The switch never really happened. So the attempt to manipulate youth to faith resulted two differing scenarios; the captive youth feeling either superior to their unsaved friends or disillusioned with the faith altogether. Sadly, this is a solid picture of many of my youth group friends and peers. To this day only a small percentage are still active in the faith. Of the core youth group attenders, a large majority have left the church with many of those not wanting anything to do Christ, Christians or His gift of forgiveness. I can relate to them in a way as the lack of adequate teaching coupled with an unhealthy focus on obedience and outreach nearly forced me from the church as well. While each of the youth pastors I sat under earnestly cared for me and my growth, the structure and function of the position was simply designed to fail.  This post is not a hit piece against the youth pastors that I formerly sat under or served alongside or even against ones that I am currently friends with or even those I have yet to meet. I simply want to shed light on a youth ministry paradigm that was birthed as a perceived fix to a misdiagnosed problem resulting in the complete fabrication of an unnecessary church office. The failure of the office of youth pastor is a consequence of incorrectly masking the symptom instead of getting to the root of the problem. As a result, furthering the cause of this office, in it’s current condition, is a detriment to the church catholic instead of torch to carry forth to future generations.

On to the question at hand.

Youth ministry as we know it has only been around for a short time. Although the Sunday school movement dates back to mid-18th century as method to distribute free education to child laborers, youth ministry within its current context, dates back the 1970’s. The movement began within evolving interdenominational parachurch organizations like “Youth for Christ” and “Young Life” that targeted adolescents for Christian outreach. As these organizations grew in effectiveness (they are both still around today), churches began to model their methodology as a means to retain the already attending youth as well as a means to aid in community outreach. By the 1960’s individual church youth Sunday school programs were widely seen as irrelevant to the context of the 1960’s youth as numbers began to decline.  Churches began to rethink how to maintain and attract adolescents once again. This is also the time that college campus ministries began as an effort to reach those lost through failed Sunday School and youth ministry programming. By the 1970’s youth ministry was re-branded as “youth groups” and were led primarily by laymen. These lay workers began to host bible study on week nights in homes as a means make youth feel more comfortable outside the stuffy confines of a church building. Special youth events played host to live music and free food as a means to draw in a new generation of youth. Kids came and numbers looked good for a while…until the culture once again shifted. Many churches continued to struggle utilizing lay leaders to run youth ministries as it was hard to stay in the cultural forefront while dedicating the necessary time to coordinating the various productions, trips and lessons while balancing a family and a secular job. In response, the cutting edge ministries began to hire pastors specifically tasked to lead the youth. The revolutionaries at the forefront of the church growth movement decided that the best way to invest into the future would be to create a draw for teens and young adults. If church is made culturally relevant to teens and able to stay at or ahead of the cultural curve, then the ministry would be viewed as relevant, the youth would want to go, and the chance the parents follow would be increased. The position of youth pastor appears to have originally been started as a stepping stone position. A youth pastor degree had yet to exist, so those desiring to be youth pastors would still go to seminary just like all other pastors in their denomination. The career path would start out in youth and as the pastor grew in experience and age, he would eventually transfer to become a lead pastor. It was only recently (in the last 20 years) that one could actually go to school for the sole purpose of becoming a youth pastor. This leads to the next area of concern.

Youth Pastor Degrees are undergraduate degrees that focus on a blend of theology, communication, sociology and culture. A Youth Ministry undergraduate program from a reputable university is approximately 120 credit hours and takes about 4 years to complete. This is a standard bachelor’s degree. While I would agree that a bachelor’s is better than nothing, the graduate is still assuming duties of the office of the holy ministry. The only difference between his duties and the head pastor’s duties are the audience. In addition, the Youth Pastor will typically fill in for the Senior Pastor when the Senior Pastor is out of the office. Most mainline denominations require a Masters of Divinity degree to become a rostered pastor, which is an actual master’s degree from an accredited seminary. While I will freely admit that training alone does not a pastor make, it does not mean that training should be forsaken or undervalued. A prospective pastor could obtain a bachelors and masters degree and still be a heretical wolf that should never be elevated to shepherd. The problem here, however, is not with the schooling, but with the prospective pastor. Proper education should not be a free license, but should most certainly be a prerequisite. A Masters of Divinity is approximately an additional 96 credit hours which usually takes 2 to 3 years to complete. The course work for a Masters of Divinity degree typically covers more in-depth theological training, church history and learning the biblical languages (Hebrew, Latin and Greek). Many modern churches, especially in the non-denominational stripe, have very broad educational requirements for receiving a pastoral call. This only adds to the problem as some youth pastors are more trained than their senior pastors.

As stated before, the duties of the senior pastor and youth pastor are quite similar as scale and audience are the primary variants. The Senior Pastor will typically handle all of the major service preparation, hospital visits and counseling sessions. Likewise Youth Pastors will handle all of the youth ministry preparation, high-school lunch visits and youth counseling sessions. This can become problematic for the freshly graduated youth pastor as they are more than likely only 3 to 4 years older than the minors they are leading, supervising and counseling. This becomes tricky when the sin nature present within us all wishes to show off and look cool for the youth or potentially lead to larger sexual attraction issues with minors which can devastate a congregation. Couple this with the fact that, as a society, our children are maturing and taking on responsibility at slowed rate. According to a 2010 article in the New York Times and a 2013 article in the Daily Mail, adolescence no longer ends at 18 or even 21 as 26 is where adulthood now begins. Think about that for a minute.  The Pastor, whether youth or senior, holds a power position within the church over many, many people. That kind of power given to an under-educated and many times immature leader is not only disconcerting from a parental vantage point, but also shortsighted from a mentoring view. The vocation of Pastor, is not an easy one. It’s rife with pain, struggle and tension. Throwing a 21 or 22 year old into a vocation of power in an ever changing environment that follows children through adolescence and strategically places these young men in the hard place between parent and child is a course set for failure. The fact is, the most conservative and by the book universities who require 4 years’ worth of credits are still graduating students and placing them in congregations where they are not adequately prepared to shepherd the greatest commodity of the church; its youth. This leads to the next concern.

Building on our last point, if our children are truly our future, shouldn’t youth pastors receive the same or more training than a senior pastor? The current thought seems to be, turn them out as soon as possible, so that the freshest, youngest, hippest youth pastor prospects can start their ministries while they are still relevant. I mean, who’s closer to the mind of a 17 year old? A 22 year old or a 26 year old? That seems to be the driving thought. If our kids are the future of the church, then what should matter most is the preparation of those who are responsible for shepherding them. I am sure that a 22 year old graduate fresh out of college can plan a great game night and give a good relevant pep talk about doing your best for Jesus, but the truth is that isn’t shepherding…that is pacifying. It’s pacifying the parents because their kids are in church, at youth group. It’s pacifying the kids because there is an event with friends, games and pizza. It’s pacifying the youth pastor because his attendance numbers are showing signs of a successful ministry. Shepherding, on the other hand, calls for proper instruction through love and discipline. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller once said “Youth Evangelism” is the Millennium Falcon of false doctrine smuggling” and I believe he is correct. What the kids need the most is catechesis. They need to be taught something substantive. Doing this may make some kids leave, and while that is discouraging, attrition should be expected because the gospel is ultimately offensive to our human nature. Many times the gospel isn’t presented in the current youth ministry paradigm due to this very fear. To expound on this, many times parents make things worse by complaining about a shrinking youth group or allowing their kids to attend supposedly cooler, more relevent youth groups instead of their home church. The problem here is ultimately two-fold. First, a youth ministry bachelor’s degree (or less) does not give the youth minister adequate training to properly teach and disciple the youth. Second, the mere existence of a youth pastor in charge of a youth ministry gives the parents an out to stop home catechesis.

Catechesis, or teaching, needs to be done at home. As fathers, we are responsible for teaching the bible to our families. It is not the sole responsibility of our pastors to do the teaching. We should be rearing our children in the faith by reading scripture with them, teaching the creeds, and generally discussing spiritual matters. I understand that children of unbelieving parents do attend church and that those children do not have the advantage of receiving proper catechesis, however, their unfortunate position does not lower the bar for us as fathers. The bar remains the same. We are to teach our families. The primary unintended consequence of the youth pastor is a devaluing of home catechesis as youth group has become the spiritual daycare of modern Christianity. The problem only starts here. Many fathers aren’t teaching at home because they do not know the faith that they supposedly believe. The faith of many in the modern visible church is superficial at best. Sunday’s are no longer even set aside for the modern Christian. Sports and activities have taken priority of the church services in many Christian homes. This too is a fruit earned by failure to catechize at home. Lastly, many Senior Pastors are shirking their shepherding duties and spending Sunday mornings talking about things they think will draw in unbelievers such as sermons on the latest Hollywood blockbuster or giving advice about “10 steps to a better sex life” instead of preaching Christ crucified for our sins. The cornerstone of the modern church movement is growth and relevance instead of Christ. The reaction by many in the church has been to treat the symptom instead of fighting the disease. It seems that many are perfectly fine continuing to treat the symptoms. Treating the symptoms pacifies the patient. It masks the real problems while the diseases battles forward. Treating the disease isn’t easy and it is painful. Treating the disease means that your church may lose members and the local news might not reach out to you for interviews anymore. It means that your budget may be reduced and that you may not be able to afford a Starbucks in the foyer. It also means that as Christ is restored to the foundation of the church, the healing salve that is the gospel is delivered to the congregation. Proper teaching can begin and people will begin to have a desire to learn about the faith that was watered down and de-emphasized the previous years. Catechesis must happen at home and be continued in the church whenever the church doors are open. Otherwise the youth group is relegated to a spiritual daycare and Sunday mornings is no more than a self-help dissertation with guitars and a smoke machine.

Sadly I cannot remember one lesson about Jesus, the cross or anything remotely biblical when it comes to my youth group days. I do remember the outreach events and service projects. That really seems to be all we ever did. Thinking about it now is quite sad really. So much time spent trying to get our friends to church and when they finally got there, they received nothing of eternal value. Just a safe fun time with wacky Christians. I am all for teaching the youth to serve their neighbor in vocation. Christ came to serve, not to be served. We too should serve our neighbors in Christ. However, STOP with all the outreach malarkey. If Youth Pastors spent half the time truly ministering to their youth about Christ that they normally spend planning fundraisers and events, the kids might actually have something to grab onto that will stay with them and allow them to want to serve their neighbors without manipulating them into it. Amusement parks, water parks and lock-ins are great, but they are utterly unnecessary within the context of building and strengthening the church.

There is one last root cause in this paradigm that is many times neglected and it centers on our Seminaries and Christian universities. Seminaries and Universities are in the business of making money. Sure, some are subsidized to a degree, but overall they must make money or close. Harken back to the point made above concerning Youth Ministry degrees taking 4 years to complete. Couple that with the perceived necessity of every church needing a youth pastor and one can begin to see how Youth Ministry has created quite the product for struggling universities. For there to be a bachelor’s program, there has to be material to teach and these materials must be constantly updated because cultural relevance is the name of the game. So these universities create a need for Youth Ministry specific educational materials. Now it rather easy to see how Youth Ministry in the modern church is not only a cash cow, but a self-feeding monster. Seminaries and scholars create the source material for youth pastors who have to buy said source material for necessary classes to earn their degree. One reason that Youth Pastors will be hard to eliminate is that it would eliminate a large sector of economic growth for seminaries and the scholastic writers and publishers that contribute curriculum to these seminaries.

So what’s the answer? I know it probably sounds old fashioned and quite impossible, but here it goes….

Eliminate youth ministry degrees. If one desires to be a shepherd, then a masters of divinity must be a prerequisite. This will be hard to do because it will eliminate a large source of funding for seminaries as not all of those going into youth ministry desire the work, course load and resulting job responsibilities of a head pastor. As stated earlier, education isn’t the sole qualifier for the pastoral office and neither is age. I strongly recommend those fresh out of seminary to seek a call as an associate pastor in a larger church. Many times the responsibilities of the associate pastors will line up rather close with the responsibilities of many current youth pastors, with the primary difference being that the associate pastor will be properly educated and three to four years older than a typical Youth Ministry undergrad. The head pastor can then mentor and prepare the associate pastor to eventually accept a call to a congregation of their own. I am not against teaching kids or having programming for youth. I am certainly and advocate for it. If a church wants a Youth Program, great. It can either be ran by a rostered pastor with a Masters of Divinity Degree or organized by a current or previous church Elder with direct oversight from the head or associate pastor.

In addition to church programming, parents MUST catechize their children at home. This can be propagated by holding classes to instruct parents, especially fathers, on how to catechize their children at home. If parents are not taking an interest in spiritual life at home, it is highly unlikely that their children will either. Youth ministry can not function as a spiritual daycare. Parents must be given the tools and encouraged to bring their children up in the faith. In addition, home catechism should be a topic thoroughly covered in pastoral pre-marital counseling. This can also be supplemented by continually teaching and reteaching congregants the doctrine of vocation. I find that many people do not have a clue about vocation. Properly teaching vocation will go a long way in supporting home catechesis.

Another tendency that must stop is teaching down to children. Stop having children’s church. Have children worship with their parents from birth. Children learn by doing. Taking them out of “adult church” to get on their level (and to get rid of distractions…) fails to give them proper insight to what they should be striving for. It teaches complacency. Unified worship of all believers is what should be constantly encouraged. Children are much smarter than we give them credit for. Let them hear big words and ask questions about what they mean. Let them question why certain things are done. Teach them to sit quietly and be prepared to excuse yourself when they misbehave and return when they are calm. It’s going to happen. They are kids. The only difference between us and them is that they aren’t as good at hiding their sins as we are. However, the potential for embarrassment when they act up does not relinquish the responsibility you have for teaching them the faith. While at church, there is no place better for them to be than sitting with you in service.

Lastly, stop and ask yourself what you believe about justification. If you truly don’t believe you can manipulate someone to faith, then stop acting as if you can. Stop the bait and switch tactics that are present in youth groups and adult small groups alike. Focus Sunday mornings on preaching the proper distinction between law and gospel, sin and grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Cater Sunday service and youth ministry activities around teaching these things to the believers that are present. Sunday morning is not for the unbeliever, but for the believer. Focus on continually equipping believers to receive Christ’s gracious gifts so that they can leave service and serve their families and neighbors.

Overall, youth ministry has grown to megalithic proportions in the modern church. While the intentions are good, the methodology and practice are not. Going forward the church needs to stop focusing on focus group trends and get back to the biblical shepherding of families. Families should attend church together. The church service should rightly teach the proper distinction of law and gospel, sin and grace, and repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Children should be getting this same teaching at home from their parents. Children most certainly are the present and future  of the church. We need to start treating them as such. The problem doesn’t solely reside with youth pastors, but is found in the modern youth ministry paradigm that includes youth pastors, universities, parents, and the lack of proper teaching found in many churches. The paradigm must change if we truly desire giving our children the best foundation for their faith to carry the light of Christ to future generations.

Parents, there is no better use of time than to teach your children about Christ.

Churches, there is no better use of your resources than to teach your congregations about Christ.

Seminaries, there is no better use of your funds than to properly equip your students to share Christ.

So, what about current youth pastors? Should we fire them all? Not hardly. My encouragement to those who are currently youth pastors is for them to preach the gospel at all cost and continue their education through continued mentoring under their head pastor and by making arrangements to finish school by obtaining their masters of divinity. Your primary job is to shepherd the flock that has been entrusted to you. Persevere by doing all that you can to adequately equip yourself to do the job in which you have been called.

About Jonathan Rodebaugh

I’m rather new to the Lutheran church. After 34 years in various brands of American Evangelicalism and 5 years of serious personal study, I made the jump to confessional Lutheranism as found in the LCMS and currently serve as an elder at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio. Aside from my love of theology, I enjoy writing music, playing tennis, being outdoors and spending time with my family.


Spiritual Daycare: Why Youth Pastors Shouldn’t Exist — 42 Comments

  1. In the LCMS, I have never met a “Youth Pastor”. However,
    there are probably about 700 Directors of Christian Education
    in the LCMS. In their job description they usually work with
    the youth of the parish. DCE’s focus on the elementary
    school children and the high school youth.

  2. Yes, I am a former evangelical. Thankfully “youth pastor” is not something that has been part of the LCMS. Within evangelicalism, most churches have a “youth pastor” to lead the youth…usually jr and sr high. There is a noticeable positive difference in the youth in my LCMS congregation when compared to those i was a part of in evangelicalism.

  3. In my city, the so-called LCMS congregation which is 100% COWO, has a youth pastor who is not on the ordained roster, likely not Lutheran considering his credentials, which are publicly stated on their website. Not surprising and apparently ok with the District. Guess I’m just naive to expect Lutheran pastors in a Lutheran congregation.

  4. Jonathan,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful article. You have done a thorough job looking at many of the issues associated with so called Youth Pastor’s. I too have had face-to-face dealings with this category of “Everyone’s a minister ministry.” Here are some additional observations:

    1) “Youth Pastors” who are not ordained or trained in any Lutheran way do in fact exist in the LCMS. And, not every Youth Pastor in the LCMS has a college education, or for that matter, any education related to Lutheran teaching and practice beyond a watered down catechesis. I saw this first hand. The Youth Pastor was self-taught, or taught via other pastors (including Baptist, Pentecostal, and non-denom ministers). Therefore, what these men taught was horrific. I witnessed such men teaching youth Decision Theology, Works Righteousness, and recommending books from Bill Hybels and John Bevere. These so called Lutheran Youth Pastors were nothing more than the CGM pastor’s point-men to plant and water the seed of enthusiasm in our kids.

    2) These men are not pastors, and should not be referred to as such. They have no business preaching and teaching in the church. And, although I witnessed a congregation acting as though they were calling such men in a rightly ordered way, it was all a ruse.

    3) In my experience, the Youth Pastor phenomenon is also used as a way for a CGM pastor to delegate his duties and responsibilities to an unqualified individual.

    4) Finally, I am certainly biased against so called Youth Pastors. Isn’t that obvious? If a man has not been properly trained and has not received a rightly ordered call he has no business using the term “pastor” in conjunction with his name. In my case, the “Youth Pastor” had only a non-accredited degree (worthless piece of paper) from C. Peter Wagner’s Leadership Institute. That’s right. The LCMS “Youth Pastor” was nothing more than a methobapticostal theological train wreck. He knew almost nothing about being a Lutheran. Yet, he was getting paid to happily lead the youth to the wolf den.

  5. Wow, thank you for this post. When I started college, I wanted to be a youth leader (“pastor”, I knew, was a vocation strictly for men). Throughout the next four years, I realized that the church shouldn’t be so programmatic and segregated–we’re intergenerational and should behave as such. That’s the entire purpose of the Family Life degree that I’m working on–helping the church move toward home-based catechesis and intergenerational ministry. Do you mind if I share the link to this on my blog? I write or share resources for families, church workers, or ministry volunteers.

  6. Thanks for reading and responding Randy! I certainly agree with you. Thankfully, I have yet to experience any youth pastors in my LCMS congregation or district. Hopefully it stays that way.

  7. At the same time, however, the LCMS looks down on ordained men called specifically to be a pastor in places where children are. Go look at what the Synod calls ordained pastors who serve at LCMS schools. I’ll wait.

  8. You know, in relation to other discussions happening in the LCMS, this is odd. We have a lay deacon problem, and an SMP problem. From selected corners comes screams that SMP pastors are pastors and should not have restrictions. Also that is lay deacons are acting as pastors, we should just call them and legitimize them. (too often sounds with lack of examination and/pr training). So what the h*$# do certain people actually WANT to be YOUTH pastors, as though to ‘limit’ themselves? So much mess, each trying to scratch his own itching ears. Stop this garbage, please!

  9. The very subject and content of this blog post is why I recommended reading Mike Horton’s latest book, “Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World,” 2014, [Zondervan: Grand Rapids], in a another blog post a few weeks ago. Especially good is Chapter 3, “The Young and the Restless,” where Horton decries the popular attempt by churches to mimic all sorts of secular activity in order to “attract the youth.”

    It’s all reversed. The way a church takes its youth into the future (not “they are the future,” as stated) is to catechize them!! If the LCMS has made any mistake along these lines in the past it has been a failure to start the memorization of the catechism at a much younger age, an age where children’s’ brains are in their “parroting” stage and memorize things easily. By the traditional 7th and 8th grade it’s already becoming too late – their minds are focused on other things.

    Worse yet, it seems to me that the typical parent views catechizing and confirmation as just another rite-of-passage after which they can shirk all responsibly for the child – he/she is now the church’s problem and they can go chase after other things. I know, I got wrapped up in having to help out at this during a time when a sudden pastoral vacancy was imposed on a local congregation. I saw the parent’s attitudes and how quickly the kids picked up on it.

    And yes, the “youth pastor” phenomenon is a sacred cow. American evangelicalism is rife with it and the youth pastor is often given more respect than a senior pastor. ‘Course, these are also the churches who kick the kiddies out of the sanctuary to color and play games during the service so the parents supposedly aren’t disturbed during the sermon (or can go back to sleep; it’s sometimes hard to tell). The outcome should be no surprise to anyone.

    BTW, IIRC the phenomenon of Sunday School was largely brought into being by Richard Baxter who, during his member visitations, discovered that the youth were not being catechized at home as directed. So he invented the Sunday morning session in an attempt to make up the difference. ‘Course, just as nature hates a vacuum, as soon as this happened parent feel they were taken off the hook and things just continued to go down hill.

  10. Good article. Perhaps a more broad discussion should be, “Why have associate pastors of any kind at all?” When a church gets large enough that it feels it needs specialized ministry pastors or associate pastors or SMP pastors or DCE’s, why not split and create a new congregation/church plant?

  11. We discussed this at Bible Study last night. Jesus wants little children in church. “Let the little children come to me. ” Psalm 8:2statea “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength…..”. Other says this kingdom shall be established by the voice of children. That is, it will be established by Word and faith alone. Children need to be in church with adults. Where is a better place for them to emulate worship than with their family and the family of God. We had youth groups when I was young. No youth pastors. My experience with your pastors is they are not Lutheran, not doctrinely educated, nor college educated. They are a faction of non-Lutheran churches. I don’t want them in the LCMS. Keep the kids in church.

  12. We discussed this at Bible Study last night. Jesus wants little children in church. “Let the little children come to me. ” Psalm 8:2statea “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength…..”. Other says this kingdom shall be established by the voice of children. That is, it will be established by Word and faith alone. Children need to be in church with adults. Where is a better place for them to emulate worship than with their family and the family of God. We had youth groups when I was young. No youth pastors. My experience with your pastors is they are not Lutheran, not doctrinely educated, nor college educated. They are a faction of non-Lutheran churches. I don’t want them in the LCMS. Keep the kids in church.

    @George in Wheaton #10
    Amen. This is so true.

  13. How essential to a parish are the workers for the Gospel. I’m 65 and remember the joys of being the Youth Director/Counselor in the early 70’s.
    As a called servant-commissioned minister-we provided the spiritual leadership to many young men and women are now also serving the Church world wide.
    The titles are meaningless to us the servants, we are servants of Jesus Christ.
    The titles seem to be important to the MDiv’s, the bishops their authority and control.

  14. I agree that passing the faith down to our kids needs to happen at home long before they get into Sunday School, let alone confirmation instruction. The Small Catechism was intended for “the head of the family” to “teach it in a simple way to his household,” not for the pastor and/or DCE to teach it to seventh- and eighth-graders. Parents have essentially been “outsourcing” this responsibility for far too long.

    I also think that all confirmed members should essentially be treated as adults. How many teenagers come to the pastor’s Bible class and/or attend congregational meetings? It seems to me that encouraging them to get involved in those settings is more likely to solidify their long-term commitment to the church than isolating them in their own special group.

  15. @Jon Alan Schmidt #16


    Well put. What you said regarding confirmed members being treated as adults/attending the Pastor’s bible study is spot on. Thank you for mentioning that. My wife and I started taking our 2 oldest sons (confirmed teenagers) to Adult bible study with us instead of them attending youth SS. I think this is a great thing to do, especially when considering that their time at home is limited (college knocking at the door) and we want them to continue to be fed the Word via a called pastor as much as possible before moving on to college. Plus, when we all attend Pastor’s bible study we then have conversations related to that study throughout the week. Very beneficial for continued home catechesis.

  16. @Erich Abraham #15

    As a young couple, (in another life) we were “Advisors” to a high school Lutheran group.
    (“Chaperones” was another title.) We enjoyed their company as we accompanied their activities, with parents along as needed. We did not pretend to be “pastors”, teachers (although I had that degree) or “commissioned” anything. It was understood that the Pastor or (parents) did the teaching. The high school students were well organized, (before we arrived on the scene), and did their devotions out of a Lutheran text.

    In my own youth, we called it “Luther League”; I think LCMS called it “Walther League”.
    Frankly I think that the social aspects [roller skating in winter; softball and occasional wienie roasts in the summer] were meant to keep us associating with our own and neighboring congregations’ young people, with the intention that we “marry in”.

    [Good idea, too!]

    One of my sons complained that there were no Lutheran girls to date … because they were all out dating the Baptist boys they shouldn’t marry!

  17. Wow what an article…I was an ordained Youth Pastor at an LCMS Church for 7 years and if given the opportunity would go back in a heartbeat to that good work. Had the opportunity to baptize the son of a former youth/confirmand who serves now as a Lutheran Teacher. I would offer that one of the profound weaknesses in the the LCMS is not training pastors in any way shape or form to work with young people in any specific way. God bless our DCE’s, volunteers, pastors and parents who work with young people. You meet them where they are, spend nights and weekends away from home and family and have the joy of long long relationships with the young people you serve. Thank you.

  18. @ AB #9 What does the LCMS say about Pastors who are called to schools. The Pastor at my high school was certainly not a seeker sensitive or entertainment oriented youth pastor. his religion classes were quite challenging. He was probably the most influential pastor I had growing up.

  19. @Erich Abraham #15
    @Tim Klinkenberg #19

    God bless our DCE’s, volunteers, pastors and parents who work with young people. You meet them where they are, spend nights and weekends away from home and family and have the joy of long long relationships with the young people you serve.

    This is probably the most outrageous, puzzling thread I’ve ever run across around here.    How on earth could anyone denigrate the sacrificial service of church workers and volunteers in youth work?  Is this attitude representative of BJS/ACELC folks?

    Thanks to Pr Klinkenberg and Mr Abraham as representatives of the thousands of outstanding youth workers in our synod.  You shine like stars in the universe.

  20. @John Rixe #21

    I think the consternation comes in, because God already gave the vocation of youth pastor. He called it parents.

    Dividing the pastoral office into population demographics carries a lot of potential baggage. A person is either a pastor (rightly called and ordained) or he isn’t. The particular duties may change, given the time or place, but it is still Word and Sacrament ministry.

    Just my thoughts.

  21. @Brad #23

    You make a good point.  Proper catechesis at home is an ideal that should be robustly encouraged.   In the real world, I can’t find it.  Maybe in pockets of the Midwest someone has found extensive home catechesis without a need for DCE’s, etc.

  22. @John Rixe #25

    I’ve seen it in almost every parish I’ve ever worked with. However, its heavily reliant on the piety of the particular family… where the better catechized and pious parents do a better job tending to their children’s spiritual welfare, and the others don’t.

    I personally don’t have any problem with DCE folks in the local congregations or the schools. To my mind, it’s just important to understand their calling and their tasks accordingly. Rather than trying to shoehorn their duties and positions into a variation of the pastoral office, I think they are better understood as variants of what other churches would use as a diaconate (or even consecrated religious orders.) If we thought of our teachers and DCE folks as something that fell under the umbrella of the Deacon’s office, it would make their work a lot more clear in the local congregations, especially relative to the pastors.

  23. @John Rixe #25

    Hello John,

    I agree completely with Brad on this. The point (at least my point) was only to state that Pastors are called and ordained men. To associate the term “pastor” in the LCMS with anyone but a called and ordained man is simply wrong, yet it happens. Among many issues with doing so, it sends the wrong message. I would no more allow anyone to call me a pastor as I would allow them to call me a dentist. Allowing me to practice either on you would result in great pain & eternal damage.

    As far as catechesis, a good pastor “teaches and preaches” that parents should get a copy of Luther’s SC and teach it to their families. For those who are single, pick it up and read it yourself. Farming out the duties of a pastor is a CGM tactic that has resulted in significant damage.

    Finally, I don’t know what bible translation you’re using, but you use your Philippians 2:15 reference quite a bit to refer to those you believe are doing a great job. Be careful with that. My layman understanding is that it means that we may reflect God’s light on others. Make dang sure the light you are referring to is God’s light (Gospel) and not some CGM version of enthusiasm that you’re referencing. One can reflect light or one can burn the ants under the magnifying glass.

    Then again, I’m not a pastor or a dentist, so watch out and keep your mouth closed when I’m around……. 🙂

  24. The question to some degree is, “So, LCMS, how’s our work in baptizing and teaching young people going?” I think the answer to that question is truly sad. God bless everybody who works with our students. To the point on parents sitting with the children and teaching them the catechism [as was done in my family] is an ideal and not everybody has an ideal situation. Single mom’s appreciate godly men who volunteer time and love to be with their sons in what may be a Youth Group setting. We are so quick to speak like we know everything…

  25. @Tim Klinkenberg #29

    Pastor Klinkenberg,

    What you state regarding an ideal situation vs. what often happens is understandable and the truth. Parents (single or married or guardians) don’t always carry out their duties/vocations as teacher. The issue then becomes, how should the LCMS address the issue. The answer isn’t to create a social club or small groups for kids. The answer is to have a pastor teach / catechize the youth. I have no problem with church youth gathering together for social events. That can be a very good thing. But that should NEVER replace the importance of a real pastor carrying out his vocation with the youth. If a church is too large to care for the flock (including kids) then split the flock (and don’t plant on another brother’s church).

    Yes, “we” are so quick to speak like we know everything……….

  26. Parents sitting with their children and feeding them is an ideal and not everybody has an ideal situation.

    Because free, separate meals at school are good for families.

  27. @Brad #26
    I agree with everything you said. Maybe some background on the DCE or Director of Christian Education is in order. I was a student at Concordia, River Forest or Concordia, Chicago (today) in the late ’60’s. My understanding of the education of a DCE back in the day was that they interned for a year at a LCMS parochial school and then came back for another year graduating with a master’s degree in education. To my knowledge, it was never considered on the same level as an ordained minister. When the student graduated, they might become a youth leader or a principal besides teaching all day. At the beginning of the program in the late 1960’s, the students who became DCE’s were all male. Of course, things have changed in the last 40+ years.

    If one studies the history of the LCMS in any detail, one finds confusion with the roles of ordained male ministers and male teachers. A good book on the subject is Wayne E. Schmidt’s ‘The Lutheran Parochial School’. Also, perhaps Dr. Martin Noland can give us some history lessons on this subject.

    In Christ,

  28. The elephant in the room is female DCEs teaching/leading young, confirmed men in the Church. This is unbiblical. Fathers and ordained pastors are the men called to do this. We are simply mimicking society whenever we put women in the roles created for men.

    Single mothers need to find a godly man to mentor their children. Hopefully, this will be a pastor or elder. Single moms need to intentionally seek out and ask a man for this kind of help (after clearing it with his wife.) I know it is a difficult thing to do, because I was one at one time. And don’t play the poor me card. You do what you have to do for your child because that’s what parents do.

    And please show me from Scripture where segregation entered into the Church practices. Like Randy, I have no problem with social interaction among peer groups. However, don’t call it Church and don’t use it as a substitute for the place where we receive the true gifts from God.

    BTW, the history of Sunday School is correctly given by the author. Someone may have then turned it into what it now has become, but it was never intended as a place to segregate children from adults in the Church. It was solely to educate the poor sweatshop children in the early industrial age of America.

  29. I agree with a majority of what is being said. To clear things up a bit, let me give some background….

    I grew up in conservative American evangelicalism and just came over to the LCMS 2 years ago. My “Youth Pastor” experience is within American Evangelicalism, not the LCMS, and thus is not directed at LCMS parishes (unless they fit the bill for scrutiny since there are conglomerations of rogue congregations). In evangelicalism, a “Youth Pastor” can be someone appointed by the church (with no education) or can be someone who goes to college for a particular “Youth Pastor” degree depending on what the denomination or stand-alone church’s policy is. I am not knocking or calling out “DCE’s” because within the LCMS they are rightly not called “Pastors.” I am knocking the evangelical trend where an untrained or minimally trained young man is called a pastor and put in charge of a youth group. That is where the issue lies. I was a bit hesitant about having this article posted here because of this very confusion. Once again, I am not knocking DCE’s. I do agree with LadyM concerning the issue of female DCE’s leading conformed men, but apart from that, I do not have an issue with DCE’s doing what they were educated for.

    Where i think this is pertinent to the LCMS is that one segment of the LCMS seems to be infatuated with American Evangelical trends. They seem to cling to all the rubbish that evangelicalism has tried, is trying and ultimately doesn’t work. So while the LCMS as a whole doesn’t have a “Youth Pastor” degree or official position I could see this trend being picked up by the church growthers in the 5/2 movement (and the like). If they can appoint laymen to the pastorate, what is stopping them from going the evangelical youth pastor route as well. That is the point of this article. My apologies if that didn’t come through loud and clear.

  30. Parents … don’t always carry out their duties/vocations as teacher. The issue then becomes, how should the LCMS address the issue. The answer isn’t to [here we agree] create a social club or small groups for kids. The answer is to have a pastor teach / catechize the youth.

    And/both teach/catechize the parents, yes?

    There is no substitute for daily home devotions and teaching, only palliatives.

  31. There is no substitute for daily home devotions and teaching, only palliatives.

    We have 505 students in our day school. 58% of our school families have no church membership. Only 10% are members of our own congregation. Daily home devotions and teaching?

  32. @LadyM #34
    The elephant in the room is female DCEs teaching/leading young, confirmed men in the Church. This is unbiblical. Fathers and ordained pastors are the men called to do this. We are simply mimicking society whenever we put women in the roles created for men.

    Deaconesses are getting doctorates at seminary.
    “To do what?”, you might ask.

  33. @John Rixe #25
    Maybe in pockets of the Midwest someone has found extensive home catechesis without a need for DCE’s, etc.

    Parents did it because recitation was expected in SS.
    When SS became an outlet for the artsy-craftsy, memorization was neglected (and boys especially) fought to get out of SS after a couple of years of a program geared to keep you in kindergarten.

  34. Nice article. Any comments on how this issue is related to the National Youth Gathering format (versus Higher Things) and what should be done about it?

  35. @Drew Kornreich #41
    Nice article. Any comments on how this issue is related to the National Youth Gathering format (versus Higher Things) and what should be done about it?

    Higher Things is teaching, by Lutheran Pastors, (their own and other participants’) on stated themes in the whole group and in “break-out sessions” on a variety of topics. It is serious worship in several Lutheran formats each day and also good entertainment, kept separate. It meets in several places each summer, so church youth can choose between nearby and “new to us”. (This also keeps attendance down to manageable chunks in any one location.)

    [Adults can visit on “day passes” as I did, and observe the proceedings as long as they don’t take up space needed by the students. Those of us who did had a great time.]

    National Youth Gathering was a good thing once, I think, but has grown into an unmanageable mob, entertained by non Lutheran speakers, (and, memorably, an SP who handed the pulpit to his wife). At National Youth gathering, concession stands were open during a communion service one year. An earlier year, almost all the participants had arrived on Saturday (cheaper air fares) but the governing national committee had made no plans for Sunday morning…except a committee meeting! That was the degree of importance they attached to Sunday morning services more than 20 years ago already.
    That year, the local committee [San Antonio] arranged an outdoor sunrise service along the River Walk that was overcrowded (but legal) and a late service that had to be repeated because attendance was double the Fire Marshall’s allowable. The youth still had the right idea; the bureaucrats, not so much, and less as time went on.

    If you want Lutheran, choose Higher Things.

    No, I am not an official spokesman.
    I’m just repeating my family’s stories.

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