Youth Misery

My years as a pastor were mainly spent in youth ministry. That was my “specialty” and I believe I did it well for the most part. Especially as I became older.

I think we do an injustice by putting young adults (especially post adolescent males) in charge of our young people. I know that this opinion goes a bit against what I have posted before about young adults leading the way in the church, but I do not think a young man in his early twenties has any business being in charge of the youth ministry in any church. There are a few reasons I feel this way, but as I have reached my 40’s and have a pre-teen coming up, I especially feel this way.

Funny how time changes things.

For one, now I can look back on my own adolescence and see so much of what I was going through for what it was… a phase. Everything is a phase when you are young. Well, I guess you can argue everything is a phase in your 40’s, but I hope you understand what I mean when it comes to teenagers.

Bart Ehrman, professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, says it well in one of his recent books:

Things changed drastically for me when I was a sophomore in high school. It was then that I had a “born-again” experience, in a setting quite different from that of my home church. I was a typical “fringe” kid–a good student, interested and active in school sports but not great at any of them, interested and active in social life but not in the upper echelon of the school’s popular elite. I recall feeling a kind of emptiness inside that nothing seemed to fill–not running around with friends, dating, school, work, church. There was a kind of loneliness associateed with being a young teenager; but, of course, I didn’t realize that it was part of being a teenager–I thought there must be something missing.

That’s when I started attending meetings of a Campus Life Youth for Christ club; they took place at kids’ houses–the first I went to was a yard party at the home of a kid who was pretty popular, and that made me think the group must be okay. The leader of the group was a twenty-something-year-old named Bruce who did this sort of thing for a living–organized Youth for Christ clubs locally, tried to convert high school kids to be “born again” and then get them involved in serious Bible studies, prayer meetings, and the like. Bruce was a completely winsome personality–younger than our parents but older and more experienced than we–with a powerful message, that the void we felt inside (We were TEENAGERS! All of us felt a void!) was from not having Christ in our hearts. If we would only ask Christ in, he would enter and fill us with the joy and happiness that only the “saved” could know.

As a youth pastor in my early 20’s, I tended to take advantage of the general “misery” youth felt and equate that with a spiritual need rather than just a typical developmental need. In my opinion, this develops a warped sense of spirituality in teens, and for many of them, these warped ideas continue well into adulthood. You know, in thinking a bit more about it, there are plenty of youth pastors in there 30’s and even 40’s that manipulate the developmental needs of teens to create these feelings of “spiritual voids” within them. To me, that’s a shame.

I am beginning to think that NOT taking my 12-year-old to church on a regular basis might be a really good thing. He might have the chance to actually be normal.

30 thoughts on “Youth Misery”

  1. …..SighI tire of the line by line breakdown’s. Sooo last year.I’ll try to kkep it short, so you don’t have to comment for long periods on my line by line breakdown.

  2. I would have to agree with you, Steve. I was one of those miserable teens who gave into religion as the answer, and am now, as a late-twenties guy, just starting to recover.

  3. <>I let him know I would personally take him out to the middle of no where and he would end up on a milk carton if he did or said anything to suggest she should be singing for any other reason.<>Mrs. Zeke, FTW!

  4. I’m back! (And slightly less tongue in check this time since people don’t seem to get it.) I’m used to writing Christian satire and to be honest, used to writing things that I may or may not even believe in order to spark debate. But that doesn’t seem to fly to well here; so here is a straight answer.Timothy was most likely 18 years old.The problem is deeper than age. Part of this problem is that the church has begun to function like a large corporation whereby people have to work their way up. The sad fact is that people in ministry under the age of 35 are usually only given a chance to work with youth. Churches pretend to seek God’s guidance but they don’t even take into account a persons specific giftings. In my opinion a person can be 85 and still be an effective (and non-manipulative) minister to youth – if that is how God has gifted them. At the same time a person as young as Timothy might well be the right person to serve in seniors ministry. While I would admit that experience usually cultivates talent, I would not say that experience and age are the same thing and I would not say that age is all that important. What is important is to find a Christian community that is accepting and inclusive: one where the person/people in charge of the youth are open to different opinions and yet still orthodox in the traditional since.

  5. whatevs, Kohen. You guys are still talking heirarchy politics. Positions positions positions. Steve I see your point. Most 20 somethings wouldn’t mind getting it on with a hot 14-year-old. am I wrong? Don’t bullshit me guys. You know I’m right. Our job should be to avert our eyes from looking at their tits and their asses. I’m a a married man and I try like hell to view pubescent girls as the wonderful creations that they are. Unfortunately, they are coming of age to reproduce, and as men, we are naturally inclined to….well…..do just THAT. Avert your eyes silly gentlemen, or pluck them out. It’s hard as shit and we all struggle with it. That should be the “job” we concern ourselves with. God doesn’t give a shit about our profession even if it includes “preaching the word” in a resume. (not a guilt trip I promise) P.S. don’t publicaly suggest I get counseling to save your religious face. You know I’m being real.

  6. “Zec: You mean to tell me you don’t notice when a girl, no matter the age, has a nice figure?”Of course I notice, but I don’t dwell on it. You used the words “tits and asses” in reference to 14 year old girls. That is totally inappopriate in my opinion and raises a red flag with me.“You don’t notice that? Are you gay?”My sexual orientation is not the issue, nice try at a diversionary tactic.“If you can’t at least feel out what I’m talking about, then it’s you, self-proclaimed resident bullshitter, who has the problem.”I have no problem, your post raises red flags with me because you limited the age of the women to 14 years old. Nobody is really siding with you either here. Your post reads as if you are compelled to act upon your lustful thoughts about women simply because they are there. You come across sounding like you have no self-control and are ruled by your hormones.

  7. As a former youth leader (I am 34 now and lead youth when I was 27-30) I see what you mean. Even I was too old to be considered cool but still young enough I wasnt totally grounded. I had an 18 year old doing some leadership and it was not easy for him.I think that since I have been over 30, I have started to see things as you said “for what they were”. A lot of youth leaders seem to be youths themselves. Though I think you need to be young enough to still relate. I think age 30-45 is probably the right age. Under 30, too young, over 45 (or 50 for sure) will be considered an old fogey and wont understand

  8. Dorsey…<>The church treats them like an afterthought, and then bemoans the fact that they don’t come back after college.<>I read somewhere that around 90% of those who were raised in the conventional church as kids are no longer involved in one after they become adults and move out on their own. That said, quite a lot of those I graduated high school with who were churched when they were little stopped going when their age reached the double digits.As for me, I started going to church at the age of four, and converted at around the same time. 22 years later, I’m still churched, have been involved with worship ministry since the age of seventeen (four of us in that team are under 35–the youngest of which is…wait for it…<>fourteen<>!), and wonder if perhaps–just perhaps–all those church dropouts had it right. Hrm.

  9. <>I do not think a young man in his early twenties has any business being in charge of the youth ministry in any church.<>Yeah, but they’ll do it for gas money while their wives pay the bills. Hard to get a 40-year old who’ll do that.

  10. I totally agree, Steve. I spent 20 years after high-school trying to achieve that feeling they (my church, parents, religion) promised me–looking not for Christ, but for that void to be filled. Since I stopped going to church I’ve finally learned a lot about who Christ isn’t. He isn’t a cure for loneliness when I’ve spent all my time at churchy activities instead of developing meaningful relationships with people I like.He isn’t an excuse for my failings in life when I haven’t earned the reward (for clarification: in high school it was ‘Jesus help me on this test’ in my adulthood it’s ‘Jesus make my marriage happy again’.He isn’t a source of smug self-righteous satisfaction I used to mistake as happiness.and He isn’t a substitute for my conscience when it comes to making wise decisions. (Like WWJD)The church wouldn’t teach me this. By teaching me that he WAS all these things I became dependent on it, fulfilled (sort-of) only when 100% active, and guilty when I wasn’t. But these are things I have to work on, myself. Maybe Jesus can keep me company in the process. Up to this point I’ve been relying on Him (or maybe the 60 foot tall statue of Him) to do the work for me, and wondering why I still felt the void.

  11. What do you mean Zeke? I can’t loosely quote what Jesus said? Is that being SCP? Is that being offensive? If it is, so be it. I’ve always been a conservative Christian and yes I’ve been as critical of the modern church in this country for it’s preference of feel good Christianity as opposed to solid Biblical teaching, as the next person.I’ve been a part of the SCP community for over a year now and I see that alot of people are sick and tired of the business that the church has become. Pastors as CEO’s, bring a friend to church days, like you’d bring a child to your job, the whole movement to be relevant, etc. etc. etc. So if we’re tired of the church the way it is today and want it to be something different, what is it that we want the church to be? Do we want to bring it back to being a place where the Bible is taught accurately or do we want it to be something else altogether? Is there a middle-ground we’re supposed to be searching for? I want sermons where the focus is on Jesus Christ crucified for my sin, not on what Jesus has done so I can feel good about myself.Also, go to my blog and read my last two posts. Those will really fill you all in on what has been going on with me. 🙂

  12. I really like the post and I also was a product of the same system, but when I did come to church I did have some holes in my life – and I dealt with those as a teen. I ended up becoming a youth leader also and this for me was the end of my Christian experience for a while – I started to dis-like the structure and the decisions I saw them making. I am now back in church (after a 6 year stint of not even attending ever) and I must say I came back to challenge that structure – being a little older and little more worldly (I am 31). I really like the blog and I have that Ehrman book (misquoting Jesus)…I am more a student of the faith than I ever was – I just dropped all the religious shackles that were imposed on me.

  13. <> You come across sounding like you have no self-control and are ruled by your hormones.<>whatever. You’re being anal retentive. I don’t care how I come across to you. You just sound uptight that’s all. I’m not at this site for people to agree with what I say or the manner in which I say it. Apparantly some people feel my methods are refreshing rather than crass. Perhaps next time I’ll say bosom and buttox.If you want a people pleaser, Zec, you don’t have to look far. Go to your local church where the preacher wouldn’t dare to address such a problem. Sounds like that type of guy would be right up your alley. Straight-laced and respectful, ignoring truth for convenience sake. People pleaser I am not, but that doesn’t mean I value shock rock for shits and giggles. You stick to the rhetoric that will earn you high fives and nods of approval. If you can’t understand what I mean in my posts then they are not for you, but they are for people who seek truth like me. If you’re too focused on the superficial means to introspection, then you probably miss alot of points along the way. Just sayin’.

  14. I find myself somewhere between Nugget and Zec on this one. OK, a lot closer to Nugget… I just am not into tossing “lake of fire” references around (And by the way, Zec–what’s gotten into you these days?).…but really Nugget, boys may be boys but that can’t get in the way of our commitments. I seem to recall Luther saying something to the effect that we can’t help it if birds fly about our heads, but we don’t have to build them a nest. So I can shrug and agree that there is beauty in youth, but if I dwell on it then it becomes my problem.

  15. I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside….give them a sense of pride………..All that said……I still gotta love Nuggets comments. Who else is going to be honest with the reason they don’t want a young man youth pastor for their 14 year old daughter????Truth be told, age gives you wisdom and cynicism. I believe the right person for the job is just that, regardless of age. Give me a young/older man or woman who really cares about the kids, who has a heart to see them succeed in life, who wants to build up the kids, and this is the person I want for my kids youth pastor. Cynicism holds many people back, and it comes in many different forms.

  16. <> If you’re lusting after teenage girls, in the eyes and words of Jesus you are an adulterer and will have your place in the lake of fire.<>I don’t. There’s a difference between the temptation to think lustful thoughts and to simply know that they exist.Zec: You mean to tell me you don’t notice when a girl, no matter the age, has a nice figure? You don’t notice that? Are you gay? If you can’t at least feel out what I’m talking about, then it’s you, self-proclaimed resident bullshitter, who has the problem.

  17. Steve,I’ve heard it said that alot of youth pastors don’t get any help from the senior pastors and are essentially “on their own” when it comes to both building the youth programs and getting youths to come to the program. Has this been your experience as well or have you heard of this? If it’s true that the youth ministry doesn’t get the support it needs, how can it be expected to deal with the needs of young people in society today?

  18. I think if you as a parent are really there to back up your teen your ok no matter who it is. Zeke and I went through this with a young youth leader under a old youth leader who we had issue’s with. He asked our daughter why “she was not on fire for the Lord more when she sang” translation could you put on a better show. She replied “I just want to sing and worship God” he let her know that was not enough cause if she really loved the Lord ..blah blah blah. I let him know I would personally take him out to the middle of no where and he would end up on a milk carton if he did or said anything to suggest she should be singing for any other reason.When our daughter questioned some of her peers (she did it not us) dress after a couple of boys/young men said they had problems following because of the dress of some girls she was called oppressive. I went to the “youth leader” that did not happen again. When it was implied I was not “healed” because of my children’s lack of faith that was it and we pulled the girls out. We confronted the “leaders” in a loving and right way but because of the lack of understanding on there part our girls were never allowed without us with the “youth movement”.When our youngest got of an age that she could handle it she went where she wanted. They could not break her and it bugged them she had no deep misery she needed to spill out for all of them to see. Its not easy and our youngest may not be the most popular but the respect of her peers she has. She knows we have her back and that really helps the yucky warped stuff stay away.Kinda glad I said no to youth leadership they would have fired me any way 🙂She was raised in church and she loves God and church she just does not follow “leadership” as if they are godsLove now tomorrow is not promised to anyone

  19. I find Nugget rather refreshing, in abrutally honest way, and I can admire that. I think the point of his rhetoric, concerning lust, is it is a natural inclination for a guy to look at a girl (he just got more in depth and some people felt it was a little ‘Dateline-ish’). I found it funny. Someone made a great point about the church becoming a ‘corporation’ and I think that hits the nail on the head. I also really like Mrs Zeke’s bit about keeping the church responsible for what they are teaching – now I can admire that bit of courage! But the teen years are such a shapeable time and kids will believe a lot of what they are told (as Fact). I would encourage youth leaders to be more sensitive to this reality and teach youth to question their belief system – help them to become responsible people and great minds. That was more a dream but you never know.

  20. “whatever.”That’s about what I expected you to say.“You’re being anal retentive.”If you say so.“I don’t care how I come across to you.”My guess is you don’t care how you come across to anybody. Isn’t that more in line with the truth?“You just sound uptight that’s all.”I can see, how you’d see it that way. “I’m not at this site for people to agree with what I say or the manner in which I say it.”Of course not. From what I’ve seen of your past posts, you’re here to be shocking.“Apparantly some people feel my methods are refreshing rather than crass.”I recall one person saying they found you refreshing and it’s not your methods they were commenting on, but rather your statement. “Perhaps next time I’ll say bosom and buttox.”You’re missing the point. It’s not how you said it, it’s that you seem to be turning teenage girls, or any girl of any age into a sexual object to be used for your pleasure when you dwell on their God-given assets. That’s all.“If you want a people pleaser, Zec, you don’t have to look far.”Who said I wanted a people pleaser? “Go to your local church where the preacher wouldn’t dare to address such a problem.”First of all you’re projecting because you have no idea what is taught at my local church and since you don’t, you must now rely on a broad generalization to make your point. “Sounds like that type of guy would be right up your alley. Straight-laced and respectful, ignoring truth for convenience sake.”Sexual temptation is a problem for everybody. It’s how we deal with that temptation that is important. In your initial post you come off sounding like a guy who dwells on the beauty he sees around him and then feels like he must act on it, because that’s the way nature is.“People pleaser I am not, but that doesn’t mean I value shock rock for shits and giggles.”If you say so.“You stick to the rhetoric that will earn you high fives and nods of approval. If you can’t understand what I mean in my posts then they are not for you, but they are for people who seek truth like me. If you’re too focused on the superficial means to introspection, then you probably miss alot of points along the way. Just sayin’.”Of course the problem must always be with the other person, right? That way you don’t have to evaluate anything you do, right? Just sayin’.

  21. While I would most assuredly advise nugget to stay out of youth ministry (perhaps the senior citizen group is for you), his opening remark bears addressing. I think hierarchical politics is part of the point, and the fact that the ministry to young people is at the bottom. The church treats them like an afterthought, and then bemoans the fact that they don’t come back after college.Steve, this is an important post, ranking up there with < HREF="http://www.stupidchurchpeople.com/2005/06/pastor-problem.html" REL="nofollow">The Pastor Problem.<> My older daughter is 14, and already recognizes that the new youth pastor (still in his senior year of bible college), is worthless for anything beyond religious cheerleading.

  22. “Steve I see your point. Most 20 somethings wouldn’t mind getting it on with a hot 14-year-old.”I don’t think that was Steve’s point at all.“am I wrong?”Yes, you are.“Don’t bullshit me guys.”A good rule of thumb is to never bullshit a bullshitter.“You know I’m right.”How do we know that, because YOU say so? “Our job should be to avert our eyes from looking at their tits and their asses.”That’s one of your jobs as a Christian, regardless of a woman’s age. If you’re checking out the tits and asses of 14-year old girls, I’ll be expecting to see you on Dateline sometime very soon.“I’m a a married man and I try like hell to view pubescent girls as the wonderful creations that they are. Unfortunately, they are coming of age to reproduce, and as men, we are naturally inclined to….well…..do just THAT.”::shakes his head::“Avert your eyes silly gentlemen, or pluck them out. It’s hard as shit and we all struggle with it.”I don’t struggle with looking at teenage girls as sexual objects. “That should be the “job” we concern ourselves with.”Is that the only one? What about the Great Commission or being a good steward of God’s possessions? If you’re lusting after teenage girls, in the eyes and words of Jesus you are an adulterer and will have your place in the lake of fire. “God doesn’t give a shit about our profession even if it includes “preaching the word” in a resume.”And you KNOW this how? (not a guilt trip I promise) “P.S. don’t publicaly suggest I get counseling to save your religious face. You know I’m being real.”I agree, you’re being exactly what the Law of God declares you to be, a sinner in need of a savior.

  23. Wow Steve, looks like someone might have gone out and seen “Jesus Camp”!!!http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/If you haven’t yet… it’s a must!Great post, and even better comments. I wholehearteldy agree, that the position and for more importantly the VALUE of a good (mature) youth pastor should be as equally valuable as the senior pastor and worship pastor. There is no arguement anyone can bring to convince me otherwise.Nugget – I feel your pain brother, and I applaud your open honesty. Here’s the deal though, what are we doing to help some of these young women learn to not use their bodies as sex objects? Yes, as men of Christ we are called to fight the built-in temptation, but who is confronting this “little” girls and their parents at who they are prancing about?!? Not a justification for men… simply a fact.How can any church ever grow in streangth without a healthy youth program feeding it?

  24. Interestingly enough, you had to over 30 to serve in the tabernacle according to OT regulations. My christian ‘hero’ – Bill Wilson, head of Metro Ministries in NY – sums it up quite nicely: <>“If you’re under 30 you’re dumb. Which isn’t a bad thing as long as you know you’re dumb. It’s when you’re dumb but you think you’re really smart that you’re being <>really<> dumb”.<>

  25. “But the teen years are such a shapeable time and kids will believe a lot of what they are told (as Fact).”As will alot of people in this world, not just teens.“I would encourage youth leaders to be more sensitive to this reality and teach youth to question their belief system -“But would the church be neutral as to which belief system is the one that gets questioned by the kids? Or would the church only tell the kids to question what “the world” tells them and accept what they church tells them as true?“help them to become responsible people and great minds.”How does questioning a belief system make a person more responsible? It might make them more intellectually honest, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will flow into other areas of their lives where responsibility is needed.“That was more a dream but you never know.”The only thing that’s for certain, is nothing is for certain.

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