We all know it.
We can’t go on forever in youth ministry.
Like it or not…
Youth pastors have a shelf-life.
When it comes to youth ministry, we have an expiration date. The day will come when we just don’t have it anymore. You’ll look in the mirror, see the grey hairs, and wonder where the time went.
A student will make a reference to pop culture and you’ll smile and nod as if you know what they’re talking about, but you don’t.
Your body doesn’t bounce back from late nights and early mornings like it did before.
All of these things force the question upon us:
Are you too old to be a Youth Pastor?
For those of us in our 30s, it’s a good question to ask from time to time.
If you’re in your 40s, the question might cross your mind a bit more often.
The problem is that there isn’t a straightforward answer.
Instead, I think the answer is based on a combination of 4 factors.
Factor #1: Relatability
To be effective in youth ministry, students have to feel like they can relate to you and you can relate to them. If you make a reference to your own time as a student, and you start off with, “Back when I was a student…” you’re creating a distance that hurts your relatability.
For students to value your input, they have to like you and relate to you in a positive way. They should look up to you and respect you. They have to feel like you know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. And you can’t just think about the students who already attend your church. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
Do new students who don’t already know you relate to you in a positive way?
Unfortunately, the older you get, the harder it is to convince students that you understand what they’re going through. It’s not impossible; it’s just harder.
Think about it like this:
If you invited a few students over to your house for dinner and a movie on Friday night, would they jump at the chance? Or would they make up reasons why they can’t come?
Can you still relate to students?
Factor #2: Pace
To be effective in youth ministry, you have to be able to keep up. Youth ministry is hard work. I think it’s one of the most demanding jobs a church has.
You have to keep up with current students, meet new students, write messages, plan events, prepare for programs, post on social media, meet with volunteers, keep parents informed, attend miscellaneous meetings, etc. The list of your duties is long.
The pace of youth ministry is getting faster and faster, and the demands to make your ministry bigger and better aren’t going away.
Younger youth pastors have lots of time, but not much wisdom.
Older youth pastors have lots of wisdom, but not much time.
Family responsibilities crowd out the discretionary time that you spent at students’ games and recitals a few years ago. That’s how it is for me, anyway.
Before I had kids, I would take a different student to breakfast almost everyday. I would be at school sporting events until 10:00 at night. I was everywhere, all the time.
Now, I have 2 kids of my own. Most mornings, I’m packing their lunches while they get ready for school. My wife knows the value of family dinners, so she insists that I make it a point to be at home in the evenings so we can eat together, help our kids with homework, and tuck them into bed.
I can’t do youth ministry how I did it when I was younger.
Can you keep up with the pace of youth ministry?
Factor #3: Mindset
Students are in the weird stage of development between childhood and adulthood. They can be quirky.
One minute, it’s like they totally get what you’re saying. The next minute, it’s like they haven’t heard a word you’ve said. That can be extremely frustrating, but it’s a frustration that youth pastors have to live with.
As I’ve talked with guys who feel like they’re ready to move out of youth ministry, those quirks aren’t simply lovable, fun qualities of developing adolescents; they’ve become major annoyances that drive those guys crazy.
It wasn’t always that way. Their mindset has changed. Those guys had such patience with students a few years ago. Now they don’t.
For example, when one of your middle school students decided to sling his belt around like a lasso trying to capture another guy around his ankles, but accidentally broke a light fixture in the dorm at summer camp. That actually happened in my group!
A few years ago, you would’ve pointed out how dumb that decision was…but you could also laugh at it because you understand how the adolescent mind works.
If that happened now, you’d flip your lid, call the student’s parents to drive 2 hours to pick him up, and ban him from coming on the next trip.
Do you still like students (really)?
Factor #4: Results
I think it’s possible to work around the other 3 factors by surrounding yourself with good volunteers who love students. They can relate to students who feel disconnected from you. They can pick up some of the tasks related to planning and execution. They can be on the front lines interacting with students while you take on more of a director role.
When you have the right people on your team, you can work around those 3 factors and experience satisfaction in youth ministry into your 50s.
Above all else, the thing you need to keep an eye on is your results. The thing you need to monitor is how well you’re doing at reaching new students and discipling current students. You need to evaluate your effectiveness as a youth pastor. That’s ultimately how you’ll need to determine whether or not you’re too old to be a youth pastor.
Back in the 1800s, Charles Spurgeon told his ministry students, “Times of drought there may be; and years of leanness may consume the former years of usefulness, but still there will be fruit in the main, and fruit to the glory of God” (Lectures to My Students, 32).
In other words, your ministry should bear fruit. You might not relate to students the same way you did when you were younger; you might not be able to keep the same pace; you might not have the same amount of patience as you once did. But your ministry should be producing results.
No matter how old you are, you’re still in the right place if your ministry is reaching, inspiring, and leading students to grow in their relationship with Christ.
Is your ministry still bearing fruit?
I know several youth pastors who are doing great work in their 40s. I also know a few youth pastors who have overstayed their time in youth ministry. They’re doing their church a disservice by occupying the position when their students would be better served by hiring a younger youth pastor to come in and shake things up with a burst of new energy and fresh ideas.
If you’re wondering if you’re too old to be a youth pastor, I hope these 4 questions help you think through your situation.
And here’s one more question for you:
Performance studies show that a Major League Baseball player has the potential for his best season when he is 29 years old. That’s the year when his physical ability and personal experience combine to produce his best results. What do you think is a youth pastor’s prime age?
Leave your answer in the comments below.
Books Mentioned in This Post:
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