5 Principles for “Newbie” Youth Pastors

Posted on: 08/9/12 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

How should a brand new youth pastor begin his or her job in ministry?

A couple days ago I asked for your advice for my friend “Neal Newbie,” a brand new youth pastor in a small church with just two teenagers currently attending Sunday School. What would you tell this guy? How does a youth worker know where he or she is supposed to start?

I think many youth workers might immediately start a midweek program. Others might start going on nearby campuses. Some might just assume fetal position, shivering in the corner of their office in hopes that the senior pastor never checks on them!!!

So where should my friend “Neal Newbie” start?

First, I’m humbled by the responses that came in to that blog post. So much wisdom and experience from the field—thanks to all of you who took the time to comment. I encourage all my readers to take a peek at all those good ideas.

Second, the timing of this post is funny, because starting 4 days ago, Doug Fields featured a full week of posts from me titled, The 7 Qualities I’m Looking for Hiring a Youth Pastor. In that article I basically laid out “Neal’s” qualifications and job description. So… much of my starting advice for Neal is gonna flow from that same mindset.

With that in mind, here’s…

5 Quick Principles that I Actually Shared with “Neal Newbie.”

1.    Ask Questions

I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard churches complain about the new youth pastor who came in and immediately started changing everything in the first two weeks of ministry.

“He never even talked with the existing leaders! He just changed everything!”

No one wants to be that youth pastor. Besides… how is a youth pastor supposed to know what works without first observing and gathering information.

My advice to newbie youth pastors is to not rush into anything. First, humbly take some time gleaning wisdom from the existing leaders, parents and students. Specifically…

  • Seek counsel from the Senior Pastor. Ask him: “What did you like about the previous youth pastor? What didn’t you like? What did he/she do well? What did he/she do poorly? What is your vision for the youth ministry?”
  • Seek counsel from the existing volunteers. Ask the same questions you asked the senior pastor. Also ask, “How can I help you make a difference in the lives of kids in our community?”
  • Pick the brains of parents. Connect with parents from the church and the community, asking them what they see as needs of their own kids, other church kids, and unchurched kids in the community.
  • Observe the attitudes and needs of young people. Meet outreach kids in the community and begin to discover their felt needs. Meet believers in the church and the community, considering what kind of ministry models might help them grow in their faith.
  • Seek God’s guidance. Pray throughout this entire process and seek God’s direction.
  • Read advice from youth ministry veterans. Read books and blogs from people you trust in the youth ministry world. Begin to gather knowledge and ideas about skills you need to develop and applicable tools that might help you.

This principle requires humility, patience and even a little bit of strategic thinking (maybe that’s why these are qualities I look for in a youth pastor). This person doesn’t approach ministry with an attitude of “Get out of my way, I know what I’m doing.” He or she has a desire to investigate the environment and think outside of cookie-cutter programming. This investment of observing context and listening to others will pay off (my friend Adam McLane’s Good News in the Neighborhood curriculum helps youth workers and students do this). I can’t think of a better way to reach a community than to first spend time getting to know the people in it.

Stay Tuned! Four More Principles Next Week!

PART II: …with Two More Principles (CLICK HERE)


7 Qualities I Look for When Hiring a Youth Pastor

Four Numbers That Will Always Matter in Youth Ministry

Three Things That Haven’t Changed In Youth Ministry

Questions to Ask When Being Interviewed by a Church