I’ve been at my current ministry in Kansas City now for 2 years, and I still don’t know what Rock Chalk Jayhawk means. I just know that if I say it, it gets people’s attention around here. It’s been an eventful couple of years for me. Such a milestone causes a guy to look back. As I was doing some self-evaulation of my first two years of ministry here in Kansas City (after a move halfway across the country from Fresno, California), I couldn’t help but think back to some of the job descriptions I read during my job search. I looked at churches all over America and saw an incredibly wide range of requirements and requisites for potential youth pastors. Some churches understandably wanted recordings of sermons preached. Some required a class B or C driver’s license (you know, in case the need for a long haul trucker comes up). A surprising number required applicants to include family pictures (is this legal?). But one of the most common and most upsetting requirements I encountered was the one that looked something like this: “Must have X years experience in a church of 1000 or more,” or maybe “…X years experience, preferably in a large church setting.”
I get it – some churches want someone who already knows the job with at least a couple years of experience. Someone with some battle scars from camp. Someone with a whole repertoire of “go-to” sermons for various occasions. Someone without that awkward “new youth pastor” smell. While I think churches ought to give the new guy a chance, I can understand that a search committee or hiring pastor might make the decision to look for someone more seasoned. But the part that rubs me the wrong way is the requirement on numbers. I saw requirements for experience in churches ranging from 500 to 2500 in attendance.
This article is meant to be a note for those who may be in the market for a new youth pastor – especially those who have decided, for whatever reason, to include the referenced requirement in their job descriptions. I want to tell you why you may want to consider the man/woman who has small church experience, and why you shouldn’t toss his/her resumé just yet.
I’ve been ministering at what many would consider to be a small church now for over a year. I have regular lunches and meetings with area youth ministers who have had similar experiences as I, but for the sake of arguing for that “one man’s” or that “one woman’s” resume that so often gets overlooked in searching for the candidate with large church experience, I want to give you a picture of what this one youth pastor experiences in a church in a given year:
In one year, the small church youth pastor…
- deals with few volunteer resources.
- works to train his volunteers.
- learns from his volunteers.
- researches and writes his own material.
- deals with death and suicide issues in the youth group and whole church.
- conducts weddings.
- helps with funerals.
- plans a cross cultural mission trip.
- finds new ways to engage the community.
- cooks for non-youth events.
- becomes intimately familiar with web design, photoshop, and video production.
- deals with people who want to gossip to him.
- deals with people who want to gossip about him.
- gets compared to his predecessor.
- calls students to join him and his wife on a grocery shopping trip.
- learns to say “no.”
- finds time to say “yes.”
- helps students navigate personal relationships.
- mediates conflict between students.
- mediates conflict between adults.
- mediates conflict between students and adults.
- mediates conflict between families.
- mediates conflict between ministries.
- mediates conflict between generations.
- mediates conflict in his sleep.
- often preaches for the whole congregation.
- helps lead the main service worship team, which is run by a rotation of committed volunteers.
- creates (not purchases) physical resources for his students.
- balances several unexpected responsibilities due to being on a small staff.
- finds time to set an example as a family man.
Maybe, while reading this list, you noticed something that I noticed while writing it. The job is not much different. But while the small church youth pastor does a very similar job as the large church youth pastor, he has fewer opportunities to delegate the work. With a smaller pool of volunteers to choose from, the small church youth pastor needs to be careful not to burn out those who have committed to supporting the youth ministry. That means doing a lot of the footwork that is often delegated to youth ministry assistants, youth ministry interns, or volunteers, without the luxury of having dedicated pastoral positions for jr. high and for high school.
I’m not suggesting that all small church youth pastors are super heroes. I recognize that, just as in any church, a small church could become a place where a youth pastor could come and hide, play some dodgeball, and completely phone it in. But here’s why I’d warn any hiring committee to not throw out the small church youth pastor’s resumé: in just a single year of experience on the job, a small church youth pastor is exposed to so much job experience. So much job training. So much ministry. And in many cases, this on-the-job training is more personal and more intense than would have otherwise been experienced at a large church. Sure, a small church youth pastor doesn’t have the job experience to coordinate getting 300 high school students to a CIY MOVE summer conference, but this can be learned – and it can be learned much easier than most of the things in the above list. If the small church youth pastor is worth his salt, he has taken full advantage of the blessing God has given him by sending him to serve a smaller congregation.
I’m lucky enough to know and learn from several small church youth pastors – men and women – in my geographical area who have the spiritual drive, personal commitment, and administrative talent/potential to do big things in a big church. I know this because they’re already doing big things in small churches. Discouraging people like them from applying for a job at your large church would be a loss. You’re missing out on meeting some wonderfully committed people.