The Ultimate Guide to Being a Youth Pastor
How to be a youth pastor who loves their job and advances the Gospel.
Being a youth pastor is one of the most eternally important jobs, and yet, it’s one of the hardest, most demanding ones out there. As teens are dealing with incredibly heavy issues at such a young age, being a Gospel Advancing youth pastor has never been more difficult.
In fact, a recent Barna report shares that as of March 2022, “the percentage of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year sits at 42%.” In January 2021, that number was at only 29%.
If you’re in youth ministry, you can probably guess some of the reasons your fellow pastors feel this way. Things like “the immense stress of the job,” “current political divisions,” and “feeling lonely and isolated” topped the charts for stressors that drive pastors out of their roles.
We won’t sugar coat it—youth pastors often deal with burnout, discouragement, difficult expectations, and more. But at the end of the day, we know God is the most “pro-youth ministry” person ever. He wants to capture the hearts of teens so they can live in His love and spread the Gospel for the rest of their lives. And He’s calling youth pastors like you to surrender their ministries to Him so He can grow their effectiveness and change the lives of teens.
God doesn’t want you to live in fear about ministry. He longs to grant you wisdom, give you His peace, and carry you through even the hardest seasons! Today we want to help you step into the healthiest youth ministry ever with The Ultimate Guide to Being a Youth Pastor. This guide shares powerful tools, strategies, and resources (to be used along with the power of the Holy Spirit) to lead a thriving, Gospel Advancing Ministry with confidence, conviction, and connection to God.
First, let’s remember why we’re in youth ministry anyway.
Being a Youth Pastor Matters More Than You Know
For some reason, youth ministry acquired the reputation of being “teenager babysitting” with a little Jesus sprinkled in. But the truth is, a youth pastor’s job is to help teens encounter Jesus and start a lifelong, life changing relationship with Him.
Honestly, is there anything more important?!
If you’re in youth ministry, be encouraged that your job matters more than you’ll ever know. You’re playing a special role in students’ lives that not many others can. As a youth pastor, you’re a guide, mentor, and friend rolled into one during a crucial phase of a young person’s life. As you offer guidance, support, and a listening ear, you’re also pointing teens back to Jesus, the source of everything they’re looking for.
Think about it—adolescence is a time of immense change and discovery. Teens are navigating the choppy waters of identity formation, making choices that shape their futures, and grappling with the ups and downs of relationships and self-esteem. They need someone who genuinely cares, who can help them make sense of their experiences and show them the power of a steadfast faith in a God who loves them.
You have the incredible opportunity to make a lasting impact on these young lives. You get to be the person who challenges their thinking and points them back to God’s Word. You get to encourage their dreams and remind them of their inherent worth in Christ. You have a front-row seat to witness their growth, struggles and triumphs, and cheer them on as they overcome obstacles.
But it’s not just about the individual kids you reach—it’s about the ripple effect. Investing in teens means you’re shaping the future of communities, families, and even the world. The seeds of faith you sow today can bear fruit for generations to come. And when your ministry is focused on training students to share the Gospel, just think of how many people might hear about Jesus from the teens you discipled!
Being a youth pastor matters far beyond the walls of a church or the hours spent in meetings. It’s about nurturing hearts, inspiring minds, and guiding souls toward a life of purpose and meaning in Jesus.
So, how do we practically fulfill our calling as youth pastors and make a difference for the Kingdom?
Stay Focused on Eternity
Youth ministry is BUSY. It’s easy to get caught up in daily tasks and forget about the bigger picture. But as a youth pastor, your main job goes beyond organizing events or delivering engaging talks. Your primary focus should be stay rooted in the eternal perspective.
Why is this so important? Well, teens are searching for something that fills the void within them. You are pointing them towards that “something”—or rather, someone—who can truly satisfy their deepest longings: Jesus Christ.
By staying focused on eternity yourself, you’re reminding teens that their choices, actions, and relationships have far-reaching consequences. You’re encouraging them to live with a sense of purpose, knowing their lives have significance beyond what they can see in the present moment. It’s about instilling in them a perspective that extends beyond the fleeting trends and temporary pleasures of this world.
Practically speaking, how can you stay focused on eternity as a youth pastor?
Keep your relationship with God priority #1.
- Your relationship with God is what all your ministry efforts will flow out of. If your time with God is being neglected, you may slip into relying on your own strength as a youth pastor. As Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Put the Gospel front and center in your programming.
- Teenagers don’t need another activity during the week. They need a place to learn, question, and grow in their knowledge of God and His plans for them. Are you helping your teens get to know Jesus better every week? Do they leave your group understanding the clear Gospel message and that God wants to use them to reach their friends?
Help teens cultivate their own relationships with God.
- Encourage students to spend time on their own in prayer and studying Scripture. By nurturing their faith and deepening their understanding of God’s Word, you are equipping them to face the challenges and temptations that lie ahead.
Foster a community that encourages one another in their faith journeys.
- In your youth group programming, create space and events where students can share struggles, doubts, and victories. Help them develop genuine friendships rooted in Christ, where they can “spur each other on towards love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) and share the Gospel with their world.
Being a youth pastor isn’t about entertaining or simply imparting knowledge. It’s about leading young hearts to encounter the transformative power of God’s love. It’s about showing them that a life lived for Christ is a life of true purpose, joy, and fulfillment.
Youth Pastor Problems - Prepare for the Hazards of the Job
Being a youth pastor is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling role, but let’s be real for a moment: it can be pretty hard sometimes.
In the study detailing why many U.S. pastors are considering quitting their jobs, these are the reasons that were listed:
From demanding schedules to navigating difficult situations, youth pastors face unique obstacles that can really take a toll. That’s why it’s crucial to prepare for the hazards of the job, avoid stress and burnout, and find ways to stay encouraged along the way.
Here are some tactics to prepare for the struggles that may come as a youth pastor:
Prevent stress and burnout before they happen.
- One of the main culprits that leads to stress and burnout is an overloaded schedule. As a youth pastor, your calendar can quickly fill up with events, meetings, counseling sessions, and countless other responsibilities. It’s essential to set healthy boundaries and prioritize self-care. Learn to say no and delegate tasks to capable volunteers or team members. Remember, you can’t pour into others if your own cup is empty. For more on this topic, here’s a post by Greg Stier on “5 Simple Ways to Prevent Youth Pastor Burnout and Turnover.”
Get spiritual and emotional support.
- Youth pastors often face emotional and spiritual burden through their job. As you lead students who are dealing with difficult situations, struggling with faith, or going through crises, you’ll need healthy outlets to process emotions and seek support from fellow pastors, mentors, or counselors. Don’t carry the weight alone—reach out for help when needed.
Check out our podcast on youth pastor soul care with Greg Stier and RJ Koerper below:
Find mentors and community to keep you going.
- Surround yourself with a supportive community of fellow youth pastors who understand the unique challenges you face. Attend conferences, seminars, or workshops that offer inspiration and practical insights. Seek out mentors who can provide guidance and accountability. Becoming a Gospel Advancing Ministry leader is one of the best ways to find a Gospel-focused community of other youth pastors who will encourage you and hold you accountable.
Walk with God daily and remember the Sabbath.
- Taking care of your own spiritual well-being is crucial. Prioritize regular time for prayer, personal Bible study, and reflection. Seek moments of solitude and rest in the presence of God, allowing Him to rejuvenate your spirit. As you tend to your own relationship with God, you’ll be better equipped to lead and serve those entrusted to your care.
Have a life outside of youth ministry.
- It’s important to find joy and fulfillment outside your role of youth pastor. Engage in hobbies, spend time with loved ones, and pursue activities that bring you happiness and relaxation. Remember, your identity extends beyond your job title, and finding balance in all areas of life is essential for your overall well-being.
Celebrate big when God brings the victories.
- Youth ministry sometimes feels like a thankless job, so celebrate the wins and milestones along the way. This is a vocation filled with challenges but also countless moments of joy, growth, and transformation. Take time to appreciate the impact you’re making in the lives of young people. Celebrate their successes, no matter how big or small, and recognize the progress they’ve made on their journey of faith.
We don’t have to fear the responsibilities of a youth pastor, but prepare yourself for the hazards. Take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Surround yourself with a supportive community and seek encouragement when needed. Remember, your role is significant, and the work you’re doing is making a lasting impact.
Build a Youth Leader Team You Can Lean On
Leading a thriving youth ministry is not a one-person show. It takes a dedicated, passionate team of youth leaders who share your vision and can effectively support and mentor the teens in your group. Building a youth leader team you can lean on is essential for the success and growth of your ministry.
Here are some key steps to create a strong and cohesive team:
Clearly define your vision.
- Start by articulating your vision for the youth ministry. What are your goals? What kind of impact do you want to make in the lives of young people? Share your vision with potential youth leaders so they can understand the purpose and direction of the team. A shared vision will help bring alignment, unity, and the right people to your team.
Recruit diverse leaders.
- Look for people with diverse backgrounds, skills, and strengths. Seek out those with a genuine love for young people, a passion for the Gospel, and a desire to see teens grow in their faith. Consider different age groups, experiences, and personalities. A diverse team brings different perspectives and enriches the overall youth ministry experience.
Provide team training and development.
- Building a solid leader team starts with finding the right heart and passion for the Gospel, but extra knowledge and training can go a long way. Some youth leader teams spend time reading books, listening to podcasts, and discussing strategies together to keep their skills sharp. Here are some powerful and free resources for your leaders to keep learning and growing as they minister to teens:
Foster a culture of collaboration.
- Create an environment where collaboration and teamwork are encouraged. Hold regular team meetings to share ideas, discuss challenges, and pray together. Encourage leaders to collaborate on lesson planning, event organization, and mentoring initiatives. When everyone feels valued and heard, the team becomes stronger and more cohesive.
Delegate responsibilities to others.
- Avoid the temptation to do everything yourself. Delegate responsibilities to your youth leaders based on their strengths and interests. Assign roles such as event coordinator, small group leader, worship leader, or mentor. Empower them to take ownership of their areas of responsibility, while providing guidance and support along the way. Delegation lightens your workload and allows each leader to contribute their unique talents to the team.
Foster relationship-building among your leaders.
- A team built on strong friendships and unity will translate to students being able to trust the entire leadership team even more. Encourage your leaders to develop meaningful relationships with each other and plan social gatherings, retreats, or team-building activities that promote bonding and camaraderie.
Support and appreciation go a long way.
- Regularly check in with your youth leaders to see how they’re doing, both personally and in their roles. Offer guidance, mentorship, and feedback as needed. Recognize their hard work and express your appreciation for their dedication. Celebrate their successes and milestones. When leaders feel supported and valued, they will be more motivated and engaged in their roles.
Building a youth leader team you can lean on is a continuous process. Be intentional in nurturing the team dynamics, addressing conflicts promptly, and fostering an atmosphere of trust and respect. A strong team of youth leaders is instrumental in creating a vibrant and impactful youth ministry.
For a deeper dive into leading a team that embraces and models a Gospel Advancing life, check out our guide on Gospel Advancing Value #3: Leaders fully embrace and model it.
It’s Not a Competition - Partner With Other Youth Groups
In the world of youth ministry, it’s tempting to see other youth groups as competitors, not allies. We may feel pressure to have the biggest attendance or the most exciting events, but the truth is, partnering with other youth groups can bring incredible benefits for everyone involved.
We’re all in the same harvest field, working to bring more teenagers to Jesus. We just have different sections of the field that God has given us! It’s time to shift our perspective and embrace collaboration over competition with other youth ministries in our communities.
Here are some ideas to leverage relationships with other youth pastors and combine efforts for maximum impact:
Share resources and ideas with each other.
- When you partner with other youth groups, you gain access to a wealth of resources and ideas. Each group brings unique strengths, experiences, and creativity to the table. Collaborating allows you to share curriculum, event plans, and successful strategies that have worked in different contexts. This exchange of knowledge and resources can save time, inspire fresh ideas, and enhance the quality of your youth ministry.
Expand your youth pastor network.
- Partnering with other youth groups expands your network and provides opportunities for meaningful connections. You can meet other youth pastors and leaders who share your passion for youth ministry. These connections can lead to valuable mentorships, support systems, and collaborative initiatives. Together, you can learn from one another, offer mutual encouragement, and even share guest speakers or leaders for special events.
Plan engaging and diverse events together.
- By partnering with other youth groups, you can organize joint events that are larger in scale, more engaging, and offer diverse experiences. Imagine the impact of a combined worship night, a service project involving multiple groups, or a retreat with a wider range of perspectives. These collaborative events create a sense of unity, build stronger relationships among youth, and demonstrate the beauty of the body of Christ working together.
Experience strengthened community impact.
- When youth groups join forces, their impact on the community is magnified. Together, you can tackle larger-scale service projects, address social issues, and make a positive difference in your local area. By partnering with other youth groups, you can leverage your collective resources, talents, and energy to bring meaningful change in the lives of others. This collaboration also sets a powerful example of unity and cooperation for the teens you’re leading.
Gain support and encouragement from your connections.
- Youth ministry can be challenging, and partnering with other youth groups provides a network of support and encouragement. You no longer have to face the ups and downs alone. Through shared experiences, you can celebrate successes, navigate challenges, and learn from one another’s wisdom. Camaraderie among youth leaders can be a source of strength, rejuvenation, and renewed inspiration. Check out our blog on “Why Youth Pastors Need Each Other” here.
Youth ministry is not a competition. It’s a calling to serve and disciple young people, and that calling is best fulfilled when we work together. Let’s embrace collaboration, celebrate one another’s successes, and strive to make a lasting impact on the lives of teens together.
Youth Pastor Training - Keeping Your Skills Sharp
There’s a quote that says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It’s a little blunt, but it’s true for many things in life, including youth ministry. If you’re not growing and continuing to learn how to better serve God and your students, then your ministry might be plateauing, or worse, headed downhill.
Being a youth pastor requires continuous growth and development. As the youth ministry landscape evolves, it’s crucial to stay equipped with knowledge, skills, and resources to effectively serve your youth.
Here are some of the best ways we’ve found to keep your skills sharp as a youth pastor:
Become a Gospel Advancing leader.
- The Gospel Advancing Ministry model was created for youth pastors who want to make the greatest eternal impact among their teenagers. Gospel Advancing Ministries are ones where students are constantly inspired to pursue Jesus and are trained to share the Gospel. As a Gospel Advancing leader, you get access to incredible training, resources, and community that will encourage and strengthen you in your journey as a youth pastor. Learn more over on our Gospel Advancing page.
Attend youth pastor training events and conferences.
- Thankfully, there are amazing youth pastor events accessible all over the world and online these days. Keep your skills sharp and heart encouraged through conferences, workshops, and training events. These gatherings offer opportunities to learn from experienced leaders, gain new insights, and network with fellow youth pastors. Here are some great youth events hosted by Dare 2 Share ministry partners:
Learn from your peers.
- Collaborate with other youth pastors in your area or join youth ministry networks and forums to engage in peer learning. These connections can provide a platform for sharing ideas, discussing challenges, and seeking advice. Peer learning and community is one of the many benefits of being a Gospel Advancing leader, as you’ll gain access to a like-minded community of youth pastors to lean on.
Take advantage of online learning.
- Take advantage of the many online resources available for youth pastors today. There are tons of websites, podcasts, webinars, and online courses dedicated to youth ministry training. Dare 2 Share’s own Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast is one of the best resources out there for poignant conversations on all things youth ministry, culture, and youth pastor life.
You can find the latest Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast episode below.
Read widely and often.
- Make reading a habit so you can keep learning to serve and lead teens in the ways they currently need. There are tons of amazing books, articles, and blogs written by youth ministry experts today on subjects like leadership, theology, and cultural trends. Take the time to learn from the best so you can broaden your perspective, challenge your assumptions, and find practical strategies for effective youth ministry.
Reflect and evaluate your ministry.
- Regularly take time to reflect on your ministry, evaluate your strengths and areas for growth, and set goals for improvement. Assess the effectiveness of your programs, teaching methods, and discipleship strategies. Seek feedback from the youth and their parents to gain insights into how your ministry impacts their lives. This reflective practice enables you to continually refine your approach, innovate, and grow as a youth pastor. Learn how to use biblical outcomes to measure your ministry here.
Remember, youth pastor training is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing journey. By investing in your personal and professional development, you’ll only get better at serving and leading the students in your care. Stay curious, open-minded, and committed to lifelong learning. As you sharpen your skills, deepen your knowledge, and seek God’s guidance, you’ll be better equipped to make a lasting impact on the lives of youth and help them grow in their relationship with Christ.
Keep Powerful Youth Ministry Resources in Your Pocket
Coming up with lessons plans, sermons, games, event ideas, and more every single week can overwhelm even the most creative youth pastor. Thankfully, there are resources available at your fingertips to help your ministry run smoothly every week.
Which resources are worth your time and investment? Here are some of the best kinds to look for:
Curriculum and teaching materials.
- Look for resources that align with your theological beliefs, engage the youth at their level, and provide a solid biblical foundation. The Dare 2 Share store offers free books, curriculum, youth group lessons, and more to help you cover hard topics and teach your students how to live out the Gospel.
- Of course, do your own research on theological backgrounds of different curriculum producers, but Lifeway, Sonlife, and Download Youth Ministry are other good organizations to look at.
Discipleship and small group resources.
- Youth ministry isn’t just about large group gatherings; it’s also about fostering discipleship and cultivating small group relationships. Seek resources that will help you lead small groups, mentor young people, and facilitate discussions. Look for materials that encourage deep conversations, spiritual growth, and authentic connections within the small group setting.
- The Gospelize Your Youth Ministry book is a powerful read for your leadership team to go through together, and the Life in 6 Words app is great for fostering Gospel-sharing teamwork within your group.
Worship and music resources.
- Music plays a powerful role in helping young people connect with God on a deeper level. By building a collection of worship resources like chord charts, sheet music, and simple set lists for a group night, you can make worship a consistent and powerful part of your gatherings. If you don’t know where to start, Interlinc is a great place to find Christian music resources.
Event planning and game ideas.
- Events and games aren’t the main point, but youth ministry sure does thrive on fun events that create memories and build community. Keep a repertoire of event planning resources, including games, icebreakers, team-building activities, and creative themes. These resources will help you organize events that are fun and purposeful, fostering deep connections and spiritual growth among your students.
Online and digital tools.
- In the digital age, technology should be making your life way easier in youth ministry. Explore online platforms and tools to streamline your communication, event registration, and engagement with students. Look for social media management tools, event management platforms, virtual meeting platforms, and apps that help you manage ministry admin and communication more effectively.
Books and reading material.
- Lots of teens want to go deeper in certain topics but aren’t sure how. You can help provide great books and resources for them on topics like faith, relationships, identity, and navigating the challenges of adolescence. Choose books that are engaging, thought-provoking, and resonate with the experiences and questions of young people today, and then have them available for students to take home for free.
All these resources are valuable, but they are really just tools, not substitutes, for authentic relationships and genuine encounters with God. Use them as guides, but prioritize the importance of personal connections, mentorship, and a vibrant spiritual community among teenagers.
Measuring your youth ministry by biblical outcomes takes a shift in perspective. Download our guide on “Counting What Really Counts” to get started.
Partner With God, Don’t Perform For Him
To bookend these tips in our guide to being a youth pastor, we’re circling back to the eternal side of the job. As we try to keep up with all of our students, leaders, events, and our own busy lives, we need to remember that youth pastors are called to simply partner with God, not perform for Him.
The beauty of youth ministry is that it’s really God’s ministry. We’re just His servants carrying out His will, and the results are up to Him. We don’t need to worry about the pressure to have perfect programs, deliver compelling sermons, and meet the expectations of others. We just get to focus on our relationship with Him, on the Gospel message, and showing the love of Christ to the teens He’s placed in our group!
Next time you feel overwhelmed, overworked, and anxious about your role as a youth pastor, remember these truths:
Relationship over performance.
- Your relationship with God is the foundation of your ministry. Instead of striving to perform, prioritize cultivating a deep and authentic connection with Him. Spend time in prayer, seek His guidance, and allow His Spirit to lead you as you minister to youth. Focus on growing in intimacy with God and allowing Him to shape your heart and ministry.
Trust God’s strength, not your own.
- It’s easy to rely on your own abilities and talents as a youth pastor. However, true effectiveness comes from relying on God’s strength and wisdom. Recognize that it’s His power working through you that brings transformation. Release the pressure to perform in your own strength and surrender to God’s leading. Trust that He will equip you with everything you need to fulfill the calling He has placed on your life.
Seek God’s vision, not human approval.
- Rather than seeking the approval and affirmation of others, seek God’s vision for your youth ministry. Spend time in prayer and study His Word to discern His heart for the students under your care. Align your goals, plans, and actions with His purposes. When you prioritize pleasing God over people, you will experience a freedom and fulfillment that surpasses human recognition.
Be vulnerable and authentic.
- Instead of trying to project an image of perfection, be willing to embrace vulnerability and authenticity in your ministry. Share your own struggles and faith journey with your teens. Create an atmosphere where it’s safe for them to be real and transparent about their own doubts, questions, and challenges. When you model vulnerability and authenticity, you invite youth into a genuine encounter with God and foster deeper connections within the community.
Stay grounded in God’s Word.
- The Bible is your ultimate source of truth and guidance. Ground yourself in God’s Word and let it shape your understanding of your role as a youth pastor. Allow the Scriptures to inform your teaching, counsel, and decision-making. Seek to faithfully communicate the timeless truths of God’s Word in a way that resonates with students and rely on it to bring about transformation, not your eloquence or performance.
Embrace grace, don’t strive for perfection.
- Finally, remember that God’s grace covers your imperfections and shortcomings. You don’t have to be perfect or have it all figured out. Embrace grace and extend it to yourself, your leaders, and your teens. Create an atmosphere of acceptance and forgiveness, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and learning. When you partner with God, His grace fills in the gaps and empowers you to minister effectively.
So, as a youth pastor, let go of the performance mindset and instead embrace a partnership with God. Trust in His strength, seek His vision, and prioritize your relationship with Him above all else. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33,
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
It’s the youth pastor who loves God’s nearness, the Gospel, and the teens in their care who will truly make a difference for God’s kingdom. For further steps on being a youth pastor, make sure to learn more about the Gospel Advancing ministry mindset and how applying its principles can boost all of your ministry efforts this year!