How to keep your youth pastor

By William Vanderbloemen

Conventional wisdom says that the average youth pastor stays only 18 months.

Right now at some church in America, someone is asking the question many of us have heard at one time or another: “Did you know a youth pastor stays at a church an average of only 18 months?”

While there may be data backing up this statistic, what’s interesting is how conversations like this color the youth pastor as a commitment-phobe, laying all of the blame at the youth pastor’s feet.

What if part of the problem – and the solution – were in the church leadership? What if churches asked, “What can we do to hire – and keep – a great youth pastor?”

Our team brainstormed and came up with a number of ways that can help churches increase the chances of a long, fruitful tenure for their student pastors.

Don’t treat student pastors like second-class staff: It’s probably not intentional, but a lot of youth ministries get looked down like the “baby church” compared to the “big church.” Because most youth ministries have their own programming and staff, it’s easy to look at them as an ancillary part of a church. This causes youth pastors and their teams to feel isolated from the church’s overall vision.

To avoid this, integrate your youth ministry with the mission of your church. Give your youth pastor input into overall strategies and opportunities for ministry.

No bread crumbs: Youth pastors often get the budgetary bread crumbs, both in pay and in money available to their ministry. Remember these pastors are not only dealing with adolescents, but with volunteers, as well as parents. They work weird hours and go to places your pastor of adults would never have to visit.

This is a unique skill set and they should be compensated appropriately.

Develop them: Provide opportunities for learning, networking and mentoring. Don’t be afraid your youth pastor will leave if they network with other churches. For many pastors, it’s this kind of camaraderie that they can’t and don’t get in the church where they serve. Encourage them to reach out to others. They’ll stay engaged and not burn out. Pay for their conferences and networking lunches.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Some youth pastors leave because the church where they serve imposes regulations that simply don’t make sense in their context. Having an 8-to-5 schedule on top of their nightly meetings, dressing in professional attire and being treated like a student instead of a pastor are things that get youth pastors searching for that next job. Allowing flexibility for student pastors will show that you value them and their ministry approach.

Create a safe place: Many times, pastors worry their student pastors are simply using the position as a stepping stone into other ministry roles. Sometimes, that is the case. But there are those who truly have a calling and a passion for students. Create a safe culture where young pastors can be very honest about their calling and specific career paths. Too often, senior leaders are driven by scarcity, a fear that something won’t last. As has been said so many times before, get the right people on the bus, develop them and see what God does.

Communicate: You may understand and support your student pastor, but is this message being communicated throughout the entire church leadership? Are your elders or deacons, other staff members and key volunteers viewing your youth ministry through the same lens?
Junior high and high school are such critical years. Students are trying to understand so much about life, faith and relationships during these six short years.

By supporting, valuing and encouraging student pastor in your church, the students will be shepherded in ways that allow for spiritual growth to continue.
These students will be our decision-makers in a decade or less. Pouring into your youth ministry with due diligence is vital to creating disciples who will influence your community for generations to come.

William Vanderbloemen is CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, in Houston, TX, a retained executive search firm. www.findourleader.com

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3 Responses to “How to keep your youth pastor”

  1. mark Stephenson

    thank you for that article. I’m a 58 year old youth pastor with about 90 students. I’ve nearly quit several times because although the church acknowledges your called, they are called to see that you do it right. One issue for churches is failure to give a descriptive job description. Its easier to say your doing it wrong when you don’t know what’s expected. We’ve grown from two students (teens) to averaging 50 or more on wed.

    I’ve been tempted to write articles similar to this for churches to read. They don’t realize youth pastors quit because of leadership, not being burned out with youth. thanks for your article.

    bro mark

  2. Great article, great insight. Our church has been actively pursuing a Student Pastor for 14 months, two recommendations for student pastors: learn how to write a great résumé, follow up on every interaction with the interested church.

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