Every generation goes through a period of turmoil and rejection as it comes of age. It’s a story as old as the Bible… Deuteronomy 18:21 offers some harsh consequences for the rebellious son, so you know the subject was a hot-button issue even in ancient times.
But Mark tells us that Jesus had a special place in his heart for children, and it may be said that his was the very first and most important children’s ministry.
That tradition continues today through the modern role of the youth pastor.
Youth pastors are ordained ministers who specialized in outreach and ministering to children and young adults. These jobs are critical for connecting with kids when they are most open to new impressions and most bombarded with temptation and contradictory information.
It takes a special kind of talent and perspective to be a successful youth pastor. It’s not enough to just quote Colossians 3:20 at a teenager and expect humility and obedience. Youth is a time for questioning, for grappling with new ideas and expressions of faith. Youth pastors are guides and examples that kids can look to through that process for stability, reassurance, and answers.
Youth Ministry Jobs Guide
How Youth Ministry Jobs Cultivate Christian Leaders of the Future
A Gallup poll in 2021 drove home the importance of the job of youth pastors in Christian churches. The poll found that U.S. church membership was at an all-time low, below 50 percent for the first time in 80 years.
Worse, the membership data was lowest among the youngest generation: only 36 percent of millennials identified themselves as church members, with Gen Z, right behind them, at similarly low numbers.
For the very reason that youth education helps establish the direction a person takes in later life, that’s a difficult challenge for the Christian community. And it’s one that youth pastors are key to reversing.
In fact, some churches change the title for these jobs to Next Generation Pastor or Pastor of Students, acknowledging the need to engage learners with Christ’s message as a way to maintain the future of the church.
The constant distractions of social media and online entertainment are certainly contributors to the problem. But at the same time, they point to a need for the constancy and security of His love. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), just as participation in organized religion has been dropping for younger people, incidents of anxiety and depression have been rising. Diagnoses rose from 5.4 percent of 6 to 17-year-olds a generation ago to 8.4 percent a decade later. None of us will be surprised to see a similar rate of increase over the last decade when those numbers are released in 2023.
The mission that youth pastors are called to is to both ease that suffering and provide kids with a roadmap to a happier, more fulfilling life with God pulling for them. Their success in that mission will also be the success of the church.
What Is Youth Ministry?
There is nothing in the Bible that calls for special pastorship to address the needs and issues of young people, or anything that defines what a youth is exactly. That makes the responsibility of the youth pastor role one that must be defined by each church or denomination individually.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “youth” as “the time of life between childhood and maturity.” That’s a great rule-of-thumb to describe members of the youth ministry. Youth pastors exist to conduct outreach to people who have put down their childish things, but not yet completely become the adults that they will grow to be.
You will find that not all churches define these jobs in the same ways. Most churches hire pastors specifically to minister to young adults, from late teens all the way up to twenty-somethings in some cases. For others, youth pastorship includes children’s ministry up to high school age.
As a rule though, you will find youth ministry specifically geared toward the unique spiritual and social needs of teens and young adults.
Youth Pastor Jobs Involve a Wide Range of Fun and Important Duties
Let’s face it, many people are drawn to youth ministry largely because it just looks more fun than standing up in front of the congregation droning on every Sunday while half of your flock are thinking about football and the rest are thumbing through last month’s newsletter looking for unsold rummage sale items.
Youth pastors work with the young, and younger people just always seem like they are having more fun. But that doesn’t make it either an easy job or one that lacks in responsibilities. In fact, you will come to realize that being a youth pastor carries a lot of weight. Ensuring that other people have fun while also supporting and educating them can be a difficult business.
Youth pastors are responsible for both drumming up enthusiasm and offering discipleship to the younger members of a congregation.
Lead and evangelize – Attracting new worshippers is always a job for any kind of minister, but it’s more explicitly a part of the work of youth pastors. Getting the attention of teenagers and young adults is difficult for any kind of traditional activity, and even more so for organized religion. Yet the fresh blood that comes from youth is something that keeps churches strong and vital. Youth pastors are often expected to focus much of their day-to-day activity on finding ways to keep Christianity and the principles of a Christian life fresh and appealing to younger worshippers. Outreach is a constant duty in this role.
Educate – It’s natural that a primary duty for youth pastors revolves around teaching the Gospel and the promise of Salvation. Your ministry is to young people who are only just becoming able to truly understand and accept Jesus into their hearts, and your way of communicating the joy and blessings of that acceptance may be the key. You are expected to be an educator in both formal settings, such as Bible classes, and informally through discussion and interaction.
Offer counsel and spiritual direction – Sometimes older ministers forget that youth comes with its own spiritual challenges and deep concerns. It’s not always easy or possible for younger adults and teens to open up to an imposing senior pastor; a youth pastor, on the other hand, is expected to be more accessible. A youth pastor is also expected to have an understanding of common spiritual challenges in youth, as well as some answers to help soothe hearts and provide a Christian direction.
Support parents – Youth pastors may find themselves consulted not just directly by kids, but also by parents who are challenged in raising their children according to the Gospel. You might serve as a sort of translator to help parents understand issues their child is facing, or you may be consulted as an advisor on how to create a suitable Christian home environment. In either case, your training and experience with younger congregants will help you offer the right pointers.
Integrate youth ministry into other church activities – The youth ministry in most churches is not really envisioned as its own separate compartment, forever locked away from more serious and mature matters of religion. Instead, it’s supposed to be a transitional service, a way to bring kids along into the mainstream of their religion for a lifetime of fulfillment and reliance. Youth pastors are expected to shepherd their charges into the larger activities and missions of the church as well as the focused activities of the children’s ministry.
But youth pastors also have many of the same duties as other pastors, just with a slightly different generational focus. For example, they also:
The Hardest Parts of Being a Youth Pastor are Also the Most Important Ones
Although church and society each try their hardest to protect children from the hardest parts of life, they aren’t always successful. Youth ministry is often seen as a job that involves a lot of fun, a lot of potential, and great joy. But the hard reality is that youth ministers also have to deal with some of the same devastating situations as other pastors.
And just as with other types of pastors, some of the most important moments in a youth pastor’s career may be when they are confronted with tragedy. There is no age limit on accidents, chronic illness, or violence. And young parishioners are even less equipped than their elders to deal with the emotional shock and trauma when they or loved ones are afflicted by such circumstances.
Youth pastors may focus most of their efforts on outreach and testimony, and hopefully they can spend most of their careers in that happier work. But they have to be equally equipped and prepared to offer counsel and wisdom to kids dealing with unspeakable sadness or intolerable disease. The Word of God and the kindness of His disciples can matter more in those circumstances than in a lifetime of Bible camps.
The extent to which a youth pastor is also a sort of associate pastor for the church may depend on the organization and the size of the congregation. In many cases, though, youth pastors are also expected to step up to both help out with general pastoral duties, such as leading worship services and church programs, and to expand their portfolio through more basic pastoral duties. You might find the position handled as a sort of apprentice pastorship in addition to having specific youth ministry duties.
Youth pastors don’t just work in traditional church settings. You can find them working directly for religious schools, in nonprofit social advocacy organizations, or even overseas in Christian outreach and charity operations.
Youth Pastors Are Expected To Learn and Grow On the Job
The very existence of youth pastor positions implies a sort of hierarchy in churches that have them. Churches may have pastors or ministers who oversee the entire congregation without any specialist pastoral positions, but you will never find a church that only has a youth pastor.
That makes the role something of a junior position in church leadership, if not in importance. You will almost always be reporting to a senior pastor and receiving guidance and instruction. You can count on being part of an employment structure that involves memos, staff meetings, and all the other trappings of organization needed to coordinate among multiple ministers and workers.
As a career move, then, youth pastorship is often a steppingstone to more senior leadership roles. Your calling will dictate how you approach your search for service in the ministry. But it’s no bad thing to begin pastoral work with the younger generation and then find your experience and inclinations shifting to more general roles as a pastor and leader.
Youth Pastors Embrace Both Tradition and Innovation To Reach Today’s Kids
Youth pastors have the uniquely difficult job of taking an ancient tradition and making it relevant and accessible for kids on the leading edge of modern culture and technology. Christianity is a timeless blueprint for living a decent and fulfilling life, but there’s no arguing that it often comes with the trappings of ceremony and ritual that kids find off-putting and out-of-step with their own lives and perspectives.
Youth pastor jobs demand a combination of ancient knowledge and modern sensibilities to make connections that kids can relate to.
This means entering the youth ministry today requires a solid command of TikTok as well as Deuteronomy. You might find yourself spending as much time connecting with parishioners via Facebook Messenger as in the nave. You’ll find job descriptions that are as demanding of your skills in Adobe Premier as they are of your knowledge of Biblical doctrine.
Although youth pastorship is a unique kind of ministry, it’s still one that requires a trained, called, and ordained individual. You can expect every youth pastor job to have a list of requirements for being hired that may take you years to fulfill.
The Basic Qualifications for Youth Pastor Jobs
Some of the other common qualifications you’ll need to check off to be hired in youth ministry jobs are similar to any kind of business organization or leadership role:
You’ll also have to check some boxes that go along with the territory for any kind of pastoral position. Many major denominations have certain essential requirements for ordination and hiring that apply just as equally to youth pastors as any other minister:
But other must-have skills for youth pastors have less to do with paperwork and checking bureaucratic boxes than they do with your testimony and calling.
Youth Ministry Requires Pastors With the Right Personal Qualities To Connect and Counsel
Unlike many secular positions, some of the most important parts of being a youth pastor aren’t the kind of skills you can just learn. Instead, they are qualities that are a part of you, expressions of your heart and soul that mark you as a unique being among all His creations.
In many senses, the qualities required of a youth pastor are no different from those needed by any minister. You must have empathy, the ability to communicate, and leadership skills. You also have to have a strong sense of morality and spiritual righteousness. In order to be a Christian leader, you must lead a Christian life.
Youth pastors, however, are typically young themselves. It’s not so much a job requirement as a measure of circumstance, however: many young pastors may be drawn to ministries that are heavy in membership from their own generation. And many youth pastor jobs are relatively junior positions, suitable for recent graduates and those new to the ministry, who are also likely to be younger.
In some senses, that makes your personal qualities even more important. Many senior pastors learn self-control, compassion, and other life lessons through experience. Maturity is a real and valuable contributor to many pastoral qualities.
Youth pastors who are young haven’t got the option of learning along the way. You need to arrive to your ministry with your morality and leadership qualities already formed.
But the only real qualification required of a youth pastor is that they be able to connect to and communicate with their congregation, as all pastors must do. There are octogenarians who are perfectly skilled at this, too.
You’ll Need Specialized Training To Succeed in a Youth Pastor Job
Almost all pastoral positions today require extensive, formal education in divinity or religion. Increasingly, this means a master’s degree in divinity, a one to two-year advanced course of study in Biblical hermeneutics, Christian history, and the philosophy of religion. Other graduate degrees, such as those in theology, social work, or related fields, may also be accepted.
Of course, before you can pursue a graduate degree, you have to earn a bachelor’s degree. That requires four years of study, examining not only Bible study and theology, but also including many general liberal arts and science courses that can build the kind of skills commonly required of youth pastors. Those can include:
As a youth pastor, you need to be more plugged in than usual to the trends and memes coursing through the veins of teenagers and young adults. And that can make the college experience just as valuable for its setting and culture as for the classes you attend. What you pick up on hanging out in the student union building might become as valuable to you as anything you learned in Old Testament hermeneutics.
Working as a Youth Pastor Pays Out in Both a Good Salary and Immeasurable Job Satisfaction
Becoming a youth pastor is not something you choose to do for the paycheck. It’s a calling more than a career. You know the pull you feel in your heart and you move to answer it as best you can.
But no on subsists on faith alone. Youth pastors, like other pastors, have to make a living wage in order to dedicate themselves to the services they perform. As you investigate a career as a youth pastor and consider the life of a clergy-person more generally, you will want to understand exactly what sort of salary you will have to get by on.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks salary information for a wide range of different kinds of jobs, including those in the clergy. In fact, there are two different categories that pastors may fall into, depending on exactly how the job is structured and what the responsibilities are.
Many youth pastors will serve as directors of religious activities and education. Their work with teens and young adults often puts them more in line with the educational, counseling and guidance work that is part of these jobs.
For 2020, the median annual salary for those positions was $45,110 per year.
Some youth pastor jobs could also be ranked in the BLS category for clergy. These jobs are those that will focus more on traditional pastoral activities like counseling, leading worship, and performing religious ceremonies, such as weddings or baptisms.
For clergy, the median salary for 2020 worked out to $51,940 per year.
How Youth Pastor Salaries Can Vary Between Locations and Employers
It’s also important to note that salaries for youth pastor jobs can vary quite a bit depending on where you are located in the country.
In some cases, this different will be based on cost-of-living expenses. A high salary in heavily urban areas with expensive food and housing may not really be as high as it looks, since a lot of it will go to basic necessities.
But in other cases, you might just find higher salaries in areas with higher demand for youth pastor services. Missouri, for example, offers some of the highest salaries for this category of job despite having a relatively low cost-of-living:
Salaries also differ based on the industry of your employer. While most youth pastor jobs are found with religious organizations, some also work directly for schools or social advocacy and outreach organizations. The responsibilities and day-to-day activities can be substantially different depending on the mission of the organization, and that means various levels of compensation can be appropriate.
For directors of religious activities and education, the mean annual salary in some of those industries can be significantly different:
No one enters any sort of ministry just on the basis of salary, however. You become a youth pastor because you love being around kids, you are called to service, and you know you can make a difference that will last for the rest of their lives. There’s no amount of salary that will equal the satisfaction that you find in watching young men and women grow up healthy and happy in their faith.
2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Clergy and Directors, Religious Activities and Education reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2022.