Guest Post: If You Want to Be a Youth Pastor, Why Bother with Seminary?

Slide1Youth ministry is a vital part of the body of Christ. It’s not something that should be taken lightly, and those whom God has entrusted with this task are both privileged and held to a high standard of obedience. Youth ministry should be more than “fun and games” and God calls His people (including students) to a much higher standard than that. When it comes to being a youth pastor some may say, ““Don’t all you have to do is be good with kids, and keep them busy?” but there’s honestly so much more to it than that. God wants “faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2) who will serve His church by reaching the lost and equipping those who believe. In order to do this, a youth pastor must be prepared himself. I would argue that someone entering into/already in vocational youth ministry should highly consider training at the seminary level, and pursue it if possible. There’s so much more to youth ministry than we realize, and training as a leader in God’s church is something that must be taken seriously. Here’s a few reasons to consider seminary if you are in (or will one day be in) youth ministry:

So you can accurately teach students the bible. A youth pastor’s job isn’t simply to create energy-filled, adrenaline-laced events or play crazy, fun, and sometimes straight up gross icebreaker games. A youth pastor’s primary responsibility is to teach students the Bible. This takes a lot of time and energy to be done right, but it’s what God expects of those who are leading His church, and youth ministry is no exception. Acts 6:4 speaks of the apostles delegating other responsibilities to deacons so they could devote themselves to prayer to the ministry of the word. In order to know how to study God’s Word, one must know how to do it effectively. A seminary degree can be one of the tools that God uses to equip someone in youth ministry to do this. Never think that students aren’t intellectual enough for you to go deep with them in the Scriptures. Students go to school and they learn physics, calculus, and trigonometry, they can learn the Bible! One who goes to seminary and then goes into youth ministry has by no means wasted his degree and it should never be seen as something that can’t be applied; actually he’s been given valuable tools for youth ministry that many have not gotten the chance to receive. A youth pastor should take his responsibility of teaching the Bible seriously, and seminary will aid that ambition. The primary responsibility of a youth pastor is to study the Bible in order to accurately teach the Bible to students.

So you can effectively serve as a leader in the local church. We live in a society where education is highly esteemed. More and more organizations are requiring a college education or further schooling for their applicants. The church is no exception to this trend, and there are many churches in America that will not consider anyone applying who’s not received a seminary degree. The educational emphasis churches are placing on their candidates appears to be a growing trend, and shows that they are placing a high emphasis on the training of God’s servants. I’m not saying that this is how all churches should be, or that you won’t be an equipped pastor without a seminary degree, I’m just pointing out the reality that today’s churches place a huge emphasis on education. I personally believe this is a good thing, and that as a youth pastor, one should desire to be well equipped effectively serve in the local church.

So you can be ready for ministry after youth ministry. I love youth ministry! I sensed God calling me to this vocation my freshman year of high school. I told God I would do this, and He’s been so gracious in giving me several youth ministry opportunities so far in my life. I’m now 22, and am about to begin seminary this January. I’d love to do full-time, pastoral youth ministry until I’m 80 years old, but I know that’s probably not going to happen. There usually comes a point in a youth pastor’s career (usually around the time he turns 40) that he transitions out of youth ministry and into another ministry role. When that day arrives for me, I want to be ready for what God has for me. I want to do youth ministry as long as God allows me to, but I know there will be a day where it will be time for a new ministry phase in life. Having said that, it’s important to think long-term with your ministry career. Most likely, you won’t be a youth pastor forever, and what will God have for after that? Don’t just prepare to be a youth pastor, but prepare to be a pastor who ministers the gospel. Think not only of your role now (or the near future) as a youth pastor, but also your role as someone who will be preaching the gospel for the rest of your life! You will be doing that to students, but you will also have other opportunities speaking to other age groups, and you will most likely have a different title other than “youth pastor” on your desk one day. Seek to be well trained in the gospel for the duration of your ministry, and be ready for ministry after youth ministry.

As I mentioned earlier, youth ministry is a high calling, and should never be taken lightly. Seminary is not something you “have” to do, no one went to seminary in the Bible, but I would encourage you to highly consider it if you are in youth ministry. If you don’t think that it’s feasible, go to God about it, and ask Him what He would have you do. I personally didn’t think that it would be possible for me to attend seminary a year ago, but God worked it out for me to attend this spring. Take God’s work seriously, take the students lives in which you are ministering to seriously. Strive to do what’s best, even if it’s not what’s easiest or convenient. Love the gospel, and be passionate about training for something as big as the love of Jesus, and the fact that you get to share it!

This guest post was written by one of my best friends Mark Etheridge. Mark is currently living in Durham, NC working on a Master’s of Divinity Degree through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Guest Post: Gospel Centered Youth Ministry

Within evangelical circles there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of talk about gospel-centeredness. This is by no means a bad thing, and God has personally used this movement in my life in which I have gleaned much from the wisdom of those advocating this movement. So when we think about being “gospel-centered,” we want to make sure that we are placing the gospel at the core of every area of life, specifically within the church and in it’s various ministries. To this area, youth ministry is no exception. Students can be taught this concept, and youth ministry leaders can model this concept before them. Here are a few ways to make sure the gospel is at the center of your youth ministry:

1. Make Jesus the Hero of Your Preaching. If Jesus is not the Hero when it comes to our preaching, then we’re probably giving our students a moralistic gospel. Instead of focusing on how your students can do better, focus on Jesus, the One who makes them not just better, but new (2 Cor. 5:17). We tend to get wrapped up in behavior modification, which constantly says “Do better” but when we look at Jesus and what He offers us in the gospel, He says, “It’s done” (cf. John 19:30). This truth has the power to change lives. I grew up with conception that the gospel changed me at conversion, but then I had to work really hard to gain God’s approval from then on. This can be a very frustrating way to live! Grace is a continual part of the Christian life, and God’s grace remains the same for both Christians and non-Christians. Our students can grasp this, and it is truly liberating to know that what you do from day to day does not rest on you, but on what Christ has done for you.

2. Build Intentional Relationships With Your Students. This is something that we all hear, but how vital this is to a student ministry that is centered on the gospel! The more I do ministry, the more I see the importance of relationships with our students. They need us to teach the gospel to them, but they also need to see the gospel lived out before their eyes. You may be one of the few people in a student’s life that cares enough about them to get past the surface and really see what their needs are. The gospel is ultimately the cure for every need in every student’s life. They need us tell them that their sin brings bondage, and that Jesus brings liberation. We should strive to build intentional relationships with our students to lovingly show them their deepest need, the gospel.

3. Be Strategic in Your Programming. Most youth guys and girls love programming. It’s just one of those parts about a youth worker that gets the blood pumping! I love programming as well, but programming can be dangerous if the focus is on the program itself over the people whom we are ministering to. We always have to remember that our ministry is about people. People that Jesus died to save, and people that we have an opportunity to speak the truth of the gospel into their lives! So if the mission of your ministry is something like what I just mentioned, make sure that your ministry program reflects that mission. Strive for a balance in what you are doing, and give your students opportunities to serve and proclaim what Jesus has done for them. Lots of youth ministry events we do are fun, and that’s great, but when was the last time we did an event where our students served the community? How are we training our students for ministry? Do they know how to verbally tell someone about Jesus? Our programming should reflect our ministry’s mission.

The gospel has radically transformed my life! The ridiculous amount of grace that God has showed me is incomprehensible (cf. John 1:16)! Just think about how the gospel has changed your life. Now think about your students, and how you would love for their lives to be changed the ways yours has. Hopefully you’re seeing that, and that gives you even more motivation to elevate Jesus to His rightful place, which is above all things (Col. 1:18). I am convinced that if the truth of Jesus Christ is at the core of our youth ministries, we will see lives transformed by its life-saving power.

This guest post was written by one of my best friends Mark Etheridge. Mark is currently a youth ministry intern at Union Grove Baptist Church in Lexington, NC. He is a recent graduate of Liberty University and is planning on attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Spring.