Youth Work 1-B: Organization and the Pastor
[To read the introductory post on this topic, as much of this advice builds upon and flows from the principles laid out in it, click here.]
Here is the first post on organization: Youth Work 1-A: Organization and the Congregation
To reiterate, the principle that ought to drive the organization of youth work in a congregation is that youth work is:
Parent and Pastor Led- God ordained parents and pastors to shepherd the youth of a congregation, for the sake and in the best interests of the youth.
3. What should the relationship be between youth work and the pastor?
As with all work done by the congregation, the pastor should oversee and give encouragement and direction to the youth work of the congregation. He should directly be involved with and supervise what is being taught to the youth. The pastor should take personal responsibility for shaping the catechesis of the youth work in the congregation as these members of the flock are becoming young men and women during their years as “youth”.
I would like to include two additional notes concerning this particular section:
Teaching and the Pastor
Since the teaching and training of the youth are particularly what the pastor is to involve himself with, a brief example of how this works out where I serve is appropriate. We have held semiannual regional youth conferences at our congregation since 2010. I serve as overall coordinator, though certainly in other situations many of these duties could be passed on to someone else. However, regardless of whether or not I coordinated, the teaching and worship at the retreat would fall under my personal responsibility as pastor. I have wonderful volunteers for cooking, grilling, cleaning, registration, games, etc. And if a softball game needs to be organized or a floor mopped, I help with that as well. However, I make sure that I personally select and invite pastors to teach and assist with worship at the conference. The pastor must ensure that those who are going to preach or teach in his congregation are orthodox and capable of the task. The pastor cannot delegate this responsibility. He is called to fulfill this himself. At a bare minimum, the pastor must oversee the teaching of the youth and become increasingly directly involved as they reach the later years of childhood.
Is it all on you, the pastor?
The pastor cannot carry the weight of responsibility for “making” the youth work of the congregation be successful. The congregation’s youth work will not work without the parents’ continued support. Furthermore the duty of shepherding the children of the congregation primarily belongs to their particular parents. One of the greatest gifts you can give is to plant that burden squarely on the backs of the parents. I regularly remind folks that Youth Group is not commanded by the Scriptures, and neither is Sunday School for that matter. Attending the Divine Service to receive God’s Word and Sacrament is demanded by the Scriptures, as well as parents raising their children in the fear of the Lord. I tell parents up front that I will encourage, but certainly never nag or try to guilt the youth into coming to youth activities of the congregation. Ultimately, it is the parents who must decide for their own family whether they wish to take advantage of the congregation’s specific youth work to aid them in raising their children, or not.
In conjunction with this, a particularly important reality to point out is that the pastor (nor anyone else besides the parents) cannot “make” any youth come to a youth activity. He can offer and encourage, but he cannot hogtie the kid and haul him there. The pastor should make clear that he will not guilt trip or cajole or bribe the youth since the parents can and ought to be able to exercise authority over their own children.
The laments of, “I try to get Johnny/Susie to come.” or “They just don’t like it.” only bring to light a deeper problem–lack of parental authority or clarity in their expectations towards their children. The pastor should be prepared to push the parent to recognize the reality of the problem: either, a. he is confessing that his child does not obey and respect him; or, b. the parent has not actually made the activity in question a mandatory one and ought to be honest with himself about what he actually expects from their child. Most children get to school and countless other activities everyday, which they often dislike. Yet amazingly, they don’t get to youth activities. It is crucial for the pastor to pose to the parent the possibility that perhaps the difference result lies in the parent, and his attitude towards the importance of the church activity.
On this particular point, and parenting in general, it is essential for the pastor to always be clear and forthright. He ought to be ready and prepared to confront the deeper issue lest he fall into condoning parental irresponsibility and affirming youth “rights” over and against their parents, or morph into an entertainer who draws the youth with gimmicks and flattery.
The next post will continue to discuss the organization of congregational youth work, specifically addressing organization and the family–parents, which we have already begun to address in relation to the pastor.