GrahamStantonWhere can I find a good youth minister?

In over twenty years of youth ministry training there is one question I’ve been asked more than any other. The most frequently asked question comes from church leaders, be they rectors, vicars, or senior pastors who all want to know, ‘Do you have anyone good who we could employ to be our youth minister?’

There’s a lot to like about that question: These churches want to employ people to work with young people. These church leaders don’t just want anyone, they want someone ‘good’. And there’s an assumption that training institutions (or at least those that I’ve been connected with) are the kinds of places where you’d go to find such a ‘good’ youth minister.

Unfortunately, going hand-in-hand with the most frequently asked question is my most frequently given answer: “Sorry, but no, we don’t have anyone who’s particularly looking for a new position right now. But if you send someone to start training, we could help you form them into a good youth minister over the next three to four years.”

The reality is there isn’t a pool of excellent youth ministers sitting around looking for work. Most students pursuing training in youth ministry take on theological education alongside an existing ministry with young people having been sent by their church to be trained. That reality leads to this enduring principle for finding a good youth minister: growing your own is quicker than waiting to buy one off the shelf.

I’ve had ministers ask me year after year if there’s anyone good who’s available to take up the youth ministry role at their church; and year after year my answer was the same, ‘all the good ones already had a role when they turned up for training’. Recruiting someone who could be trained and equipped to become a good youth minister is hard and takes a long time; but it will likely take less time than waiting for someone good to turn up.

So, if your parish is looking for a good youth minister, here’s my advice for how to grow your own: 

Step 1: Pray

So much of what is involved in initiating a new ministry among young people requires divine providence and wisdom from above. Any search for a youth minister must be bathed in the prayers of the parish leadership. Pray for guidance in how to craft a position description; pray that the Lord would provide the right candidate for the role.

Alongside the personal prayers of church leaders and individual congregation members, looking for a youth minister should shape the public prayers of the whole congregation. Our prayers both express and shape what’s important to us. The search for a new youth minister needs to capture the hearts and prayers of the congregation and leadership to promote the kind of church culture in which a new youth ministry will be able to flourish. Pray not just for a youth minister but pray for young people. Pray not just for young people to come to your church but pray for young people to find life in Christ. Lead the congregation in prayer for young people asking that they would be ready to take full ownership of a ministry among young people, whether or not the Lord provides a youth minister. 

Step 2: Articulate a Vision

UK youth ministry author Tim Gough talks about the magic of ‘something’: we want to do something for the young people.[1] The problem is that ‘something’ can easily become ‘anything’; and ‘anything’ can be done by ‘anyone’. This results in the unhelpful line of thinking that, ‘provided there’s someone doing something for the youth, the rest of us can get on with life and ministry’! Rather than looking for a Lone Ranger to ‘take care of the young people’, make this search the time to frame a holistic vision for a whole church commitment to sharing Jesus with young people.

What is the particular thing you are wanting for the young people in your parish? If you want weekly evangelistic events that attract hundreds of non-church youth you’ll need a different plan than if your dream is to see the children of Christian families happy to stay in church with their parents as they move through senior high school into young adulthood. You may not know what ‘something’ ought to be which is precisely why you want to employ a youth minister. In that case, make the vision that you would understand the needs and opportunities of ministry with young people in our parish.

My advice is to get advice. Seek out parishes that are like yours that have existing youth ministries and find out what they do. Talk to your Diocesan Youth Ministry Officer, or whoever provides youth ministry training in your part of the world.[2]

Pray for a vision, and then call on God to see that vision fulfilled.

Step 3: Write a Position Description

Writing a workable position description is often where the wheels come off. To be frank, many advertised youth ministry positions should never be filled:

We’re looking for a dynamic and energetic young leader, with significant years of experience in a large ministry, advanced theological training, and skills in youth discipleship, evangelism, first aid, mental health counselling, and a mini-bus licence, to organise youth group and youth bible study groups, plan and lead an annual youth camp and mission trip, recruit and train leaders, run outreach programs in local schools and community groups, and assist with the mid-week after-school children’s program. Position is 12 hours a week, must have own car, and find own accommodation within the parish. Anticipated outcome is the establishment of a thriving youth ministry of 50+ young people within twelve months.

Thanks, but no.

I exaggerate, but only slightly. From position descriptions I’ve seen over the years, many churches are either enormously optimistic about what a youth minister can accomplish in 12 hours a week, or hopelessly ignorant of what a youth ministry involves.

If you’re crafting a new youth ministry position, start by talking to colleagues nearby in similar sized parishes who are currently employing someone in youth ministry and look at their position description (provided that it accurately reflects the actual ministry being fulfilled). Alternatively, get the advice of longer-term youth ministers nearby, whether at a parish with a more established youth ministry in your Diocese, or your Diocesan Youth Ministry Officer or training provider. Get the advice you need to craft a position description that can realistically move toward fulfilling your vision.


Step 4: Do whatever you can to make the position full-time

I know that offering a full-time youth ministry role may sound completely out of the question for many parishes. But if we go back to the original request, there are two options for finding someone good: headhunting or growing. If someone’s already in a role, they’re likely to need the offer of a full-time position to convince them to move. If you’re going to grow someone into a role, they’re likely to need a full-time position to enable them to stick at it for the long-term. Youth ministry done well needs positions that enable people to stay in the role long enough to get good at it.

So how can a full-time role be possible without being a large church with an already large youth ministry, or a small church with a very large bequest? Let me offer four suggestions:

First suggestion: Make the position a training role that grows over time. Find someone who has some gifts and interest in ministering among young people, employ them for one day a week, and send them to theological college for the rest of the week. Keep the position description narrowly defined for that first year while they get their foundational ministry training under way. In year two you could increase their employment to two days a week, with four days a week of study, and a day of rest. By year three your trainee could continue with full time study and part time ministry (with a duly circumscribed position description), or shift their study load to part time (say three days a week), and increase their ministry days to three, with a day of rest.[3] After a third year of part-time study, year four will have a much lighter study load (perhaps completing a practicum ministry placement unit together with a capstone project), enabling the ministry load to step up to four or five days a week. Finally, after graduation, as the church has built the capacity to sustain a new staff member, you’ll have a home-grown youth minister—five years in the making, but quicker than waiting for one to turn up on the doorstep.

Second suggestion: Change the role from ministering to young people, to ministering with and on-behalf of young people. It’s true that not many youth ministries are large enough to justify employing someone full time. Yet rather than just ‘looking after the young people’, youth ministries will flourish when teenagers are energised and enabled to fully take their part in the life and mission of the whole church. An effective full-time youth minister won’t only minister to the youth, they’ll also advocate for the young people, teaching and equipping the whole congregation to take on the shared privilege of handing on the good news of Jesus to future generations. A full-time youth minister can be part of the church leadership team with a special eye out for how young people can participate in and contribute to church life. A full-time youth minister with a congregation-wide focus of promoting and enabling ministry to, with, and by young people, is a vision for a long-term, specialist ministry, equipped and skilled to enable young people take their place as full members of the body of Christ.

Third suggestion: find complementary employment in a local youth-related field. Having to juggle two roles will come at a cost—the church-based ministry will remain part-time, and part-time ministry presents challenges to boundaries and puts limits on vision and innovation. But when a second job is needed to make ends meet, a well-chosen second job can provide effective bridges into the lives of young people. Common options in this space would be a local school or a para-church youth organisation. Other options would be working alongside teenagers at the local McDonalds. Entrepreneurial options include setting up a social enterprise business such as lawn mowing, or a laundromat, cafe, or home tutoring business.

Fourth suggestion: Make the adult ministries part time to free up the budget for a full-time youth minister. Change the vicar’s position description so that they become the youth minister. Have the vicar run Friday night youth group and mentor the teenagers and find someone part time to organise Sunday services!

Now even I realise I’m entering fantasy land, but the thought experiment is worthwhile. What objections would come from the congregation (and clergy!) if the ministry roles focussed on adults became short-term, part-time, with no accommodation available, and training optional? Could those objections perhaps echo the kinds of objections we’d hear from young people if they were able to express them? 

Step 5: Look beyond the usual suspects

Youth ministers are often gregarious extraverts in their early 20s. Yet though this is often the case, it is not always so. In fact, almost all of the best youth ministers I know are nothing like the stereotype. One of the golden rules of effective youth ministry is this: young people don’t need leaders who are like them; they need leaders who like them.

We simply must demolish the myth that effective youth ministry ends on someone’s 25th birthday. We must demolish the myth that youth ministry is a transitional stage before moving on to ‘proper’ ministry with adults. That thinking has kept young people having to put up with a series of short-term inexperienced youth leaders. Imagine if the local High School changed their staffing policy so that instead of employing trained and experienced teachers, they opted for untrained volunteers all on two- to three-year contracts. The fees would be low, the energy might be high, but the stability and outcomes are likely to suffer. 

Once you start looking beyond the usual suspects it may be that there’s a future youth minister already in the congregation. They’ll be the one who knows the teenagers’ names. The one who prays for young people at the prayer meeting. They may well be in their 50s or 60s, they may not have any tattoos, and are unlikely to be on TikTok, but if they love young people, and love Jesus, and would love to introduce them to each other, then they’re great candidates.

Step 6: Actively wait

Waiting in scripture is never a passive thing. To wait for the Lord doesn’t mean just sitting around. Rather, we anticipate and prepare for his coming, expectant, and full of hope.

Wait for a youth minister to be raised up and keep looking for who the Lord may provide. That looking might involve actively going to the larger church nearby and asking for someone to come as a missionary to your parish. It might involve connecting with youth ministry networks in your Diocese so that you and your congregation might be equipped as youth ministry supporters.

Wait in hope, and as you wait, keep praying, keep loving and serving young people. Perhaps in time you’ll become the answer to your own prayers.

Graham Stanton is the Director of the Centre for Children’s and Youth Ministry and Lecturer in Practical Theology at Ridley College, Melbourne.

[1] Tim Gough, Rebooted: Reclaiming youth ministry for the long-haul. A biblical framework (London, UK: IVP, 2018).

[2] And if you’re stuck, look at the early sessions in the online unit in the Ridley Certificate, Introduction to Youth Ministry where we cover the what, why, and who of youth ministry (and you can even stick around for the later lessons on the how). https://certificate.ridley.edu.au/courses/introduction-to-youth-ministry

[3] For most training programs, three days a week of study equals a 75% equivalent full-time study load, which meets the requirement of being a ‘full time student’ for the purposes of accessing Centrelink benefits. With a combination of FEE-HELP, government support for genuine students, and a ministry allowance packaged with a non-taxable fringe benefit, it’s possible to pull together a reasonably sustainable living for a trainee position.