Re-Thinking Youth Ministry: A Title, By Any Other Name
group magazine: September-October, 2011
By Mark Oestreicher
I recently had lunch with an executive pastor who was rethinking the youth ministry at his large church. It was a great "change opportunity" moment because the congregation was undergoing massive shifts—including transitioning to geographically dispersed smaller communities as the primary vehicle for connecting with the church and living out faith. (Leaders steered clear of the term "small groups" to avoid any assumptions people might have.)
The entire church staff was shifting to accommodate this change, and the former youth pastor was becoming a "regional pastor." So as the leaders tried to figure out what to do with the youth ministry, they considered changing the position title, too.
The pastor and I discussed the church's desire to increase opportunities for teenagers to have intergenerational relationships. We asked what it would look like if the new "youth pastor" no longer planned a bunch of programs that isolated young people from the rest of the church. What if the role moved toward a combination of providing some age-specific activities while putting a major new emphasis on finding meaningful ways to integrate teenagers into the life of the church?
Our conversation was full of energy and possibility because, really, anything was possible. Sure, the church had a few sacred cows. But most of them would, in this context, be fairly easy to serve up at the next potluck.
Later that day, we had this text exchange:
Pastor: What about the title "Teenage Advocate Pastor"?
Me: I like the message but don't think those are the right words. "Advocate" has a little too much of an antagonistic vibe. How about "Pastor of Student Integration & Faith Formation"?
Me: Here's another idea, if you want something shorter: Youth Champion.
Pastor: Love "Student Integration Pastor"! We'll see how it flies…
Tweaking job titles might seem like a semantic game, to some degree. But, as in this case, titles often communicate very important messages. Whether or not you can change your official title, we all have room to reimagine our roles. (For volunteers, I suggest not saying, "I don't have a title; I'm just a volunteer.")
What would it look like for you to become your church's Student Integration Pastor?
Marko writes, speaks, and leads The Youth Cartel, based in San Diego. Check out his blog at whyismarko.com, or contact him at email@example.com.
Movie: Hot Rod
Book (Besides the Bible): Lamb, Christopher Moore