What Youth Need to Hear from Sr Pastors
Too often, senior pastors get so focused on the work they’re doing to reach adults in their congregation, they neglect to engage the younger members. It’s tempting to write it off as the youth pastor’s job — after all, that’s what they’re there for — but the truth is, the youth of a church are just as much members of the church as their parents. In fact, youth can be a vibrant part of the church if you let them. They don’t have to be relegated to the sidelines — or perhaps more literally, the church basement.
Many churches are finding themselves facing the global issue of the aging church within their own congregations. Members are getting older, but younger people are not filing in behind them. Why? Because leadership isn’t making engaging youth a priority. Or, if they are, it’s not working. One thing that can help transform how the church engages young people is through the senior pastor(s). A senior pastor sets the tone for the rest of the congregation and how it treats the younger generation. Unfortunately, many youth don’t have any sort of relationship with their senior pastor(s). If pastors want their church to continue to grow and youth to be more involved, they have to take the first step.
Pastors can take that first step by making the following statements to young people and living them out in practical ways:
- “Your contribution matters.” Perhaps your childhood was a rare exception, but most of us didn’t receive this message from our senior pastor growing up. Youth ministry is typically siloed, only to make an appearance on occasions like “youth Sunday.” Many adults underestimate how significant and profound the ideas and intentions of youth can be. Many times, if we give them the opportunity to do something great, they step up. Having them regularly contribute to church services, be a part of (or even lead) mission projects, even speak into decisions being made that affect them — these are all practices that not only create a more diverse, intergenerational congregation, but honor and uplift youth, giving them a sense of ownership over their faith and their church. A sense of ownership also sows a longevity of faith — something many youth today aren’t maintaining past high school.
- “Your faith just as real as mine.” Often adult Christians make the mistake of feeling like they have to “water down” sermons or biblical truth to be accessible to young people. While it may be helpful to provide relevant illustrations or tie these truths to experiences they face on a regular basis, the primary content and truth can remain the same. When we underestimate their ability to understand complex truth or their desire to learn it, we tell them their faith isn’t as real or powerful as ours and isolate them from the rest of the congregation. No one likes to be looked at as “less-than,” and young people are no different. In fact, many are facing challenges greater than we faced as young people. Trust them with the same truth and see how it can transform their lives — and inspires them to serve.
- “I’m your pastor, too.” Show you care about the youth in your church by actually getting to know them. Attend youth group meetings from time to time — maybe even have a discussion about a topic like baptism or communion. Get to know their names and interests. By doing so, you’re investing in the next generation of Christians — and church members. You’re showing them by your actions that you are not just the pastor of the adults in your church. You’re their pastor, too, and
you take that role seriously. Youth are not half-members of your church. They’re members, just like the adults, and they should be treated like it. One pastor puts this into practice in a tangible way by preaching the same sermon for youth as he does adults. Mats-Ola Ishoel at Word of Life Church in Moscow has 1500 adults and 1500 youth show up to his church every week. He preaches two sermons for adults and two for youth, but instead of adjusting the content entirely, he simply adds a few relevant illustrations to make it come alive and incorporates a different style of worship in the service. Though he is in his 60s, he realizes that he is also a youth pastor, and he intentionally cultivates an emotional and spiritual connection to younger people in his congregation. When we dignify youth and show them the church would miss them if they weren’t there, we fan the flame of faith inside their hearts and teach them they can make it their own.
By making it clear through words and actions they are not just pastors of adults but pastors of the entire congregation, senior pastors can truly engage youth in their church and community in a more effective way.