Student Ministry Stuff (SMS): Pied Piper (part 1)

The new SMS editorial has commenced.  Welcome.

My intention with this series of blog posts will be to give my thoughts on specific areas of student ministry.  Call it a rant, free advice or something that makes you think.  The series comes out of my weekly interactions with Youth Pastors and some of the thoughts that form as a result of my communication with the YP’s, parents, pastors and students.

So… here we go.

Let me start by saying this is not a rant against Youth Pastors… it is a warning to the Pied Piper Youth Pastor or to the church that allows for a Pied Piper Youth Pastor.  You potentially give Youth Ministry and the Church a bad name.

Wikipedia gives the background of the Pied Piper:

The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the subject of a legend concerning the departure or death of a great many children from the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Germany, in the Middle Ages. The earliest references describe a piper, dressed in pied (multicolored) clothing, leading the children away from the town never to return. In the 16th century the story was expanded into a full narrative, in which the piper is a rat-catcherhired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizenry refuses to “pay the piper” for this service, he retaliates by turning his magic on their children, leading them away as he had the rats. This version of the story spread as a fairy tale.

Have You Seen a Pied Piper Youth Pastor?

You can recognize the  Pied Piper Youth Pastor as the guy/gal who leads his or her team to the water-park, mission trip or back to school shopping trip in the 15 passenger van with no other adult sponsor to be seen.  You’ll see him in the concert mosh-pit with the teens trying to hold onto his teen years or you’ll see her lead worship, do announcements and then lead the discussion in Sunday School because she has nobody else helping her.  They may get adult chaperones to an event or two, but an adult shepherd is nowhere to be found.

Let me first recognize that exceptions to this rule do exist, but the vast majority of Youth Directors/Leaders/Pastors who are alone in ministry are doing so by choice or by force.  They don’t know how to recruit, feel like nobody wants to help or have fallen into the trap of believing “I am paid to be with the teens, therefore I am the one who should influence these teens.”

Mr. or Miss “Pied Piper Pastor” please understand that Jesus trained, entrusted and expected others to carry out the mission with Him.  You should too.

You may have the most education, training, and experience.  You may even be the best speaker, worship leader and most creative thinker; but this does not mean that you should be the one doing it all.  In fact, you shouldn’t.

And to the church that allows for a Pied Piper Pastor.  Be warned: when he or she encounters the angry parent, pastor or board member, Pied Piper will likely leave.  Because he or she doesn’t feel loved, supported or that he or she is part of team, s/he may just pack up the suitcase and move on to the next place (which may or may not be a place of ministry).

Rather than a rant against and contributing to the problem, let me begin to unpack some practical suggestions for both the Pied Piper and the Church of the Pied Piper…

This week, we’ll start with the church, next week, we’ll examine it for the potential Pied Piper.

To The Church:

  1. Create an environment of prayer, support and encouragement for the Youth Pastor and the Youth Ministry. Is there a faithful elder or two, several parents and “at large” congregants who are not necessarily involved with the Students who will commit themselves to prayer for not just the Youth, but for the Youth Pastor?  What would it look like for these individuals to unite for corporate prayer the way some churches do for the overseas missionaries.  The Youth Pastor is a trainer for our “at home” missionaries.
  2. Invest more than your dollars in the program, give the program/pastor the “platform.” What would it look like to start your service every week, or at least once a month with a “Youth Ministry Moment?”  Give the Youth Pastor, an adult leader and a student 2-3 minutes to share what has happened, what will happen or a key story/testimony.  This will help the congregation see that youth ministry is not just an entertainment based program, but one that is shepherding the flock of the best missionaries we ought to be supporting (because 80% of those who call themselves Christians came to Christ at the age of 18 or under).
  3. Create a philosophy of Youth Ministry that is Youth Pastor proof. Don’t hire a Youth Pastor and allow him/her to create the philosophy of youth ministry, rather hire someone that will “season” it with their personality flavor. Expanding that analogy… you go to a restaurant of your choosing because it is an Italian, Mexican or Chinese place… the establishment is what it is and you chose it based on what you know you’ll get when you go. Could you imagine going to Outback and all of a sudden their menu had only sushi?  What happened to the Outback 9 oz. Special of steak, potato, bread and salad?  Outback Ownership has chosen to be a steakhouse.  They may change their spices, but the core of the restaurant stays the same.  As we look at Student Ministry, the church should decide upon and create the philosophy of ministry.  Build this philosophy around solid team leadership (require an adult staff of volunteers), relationaly based ministry with Bible teaching, practical application and discipleship (where disciples become disciplemakers) at the core.  Allow the Youth Pastor to season it through methodology, but not to create/change the philosophy.*

This is just scratching the surface of this deep subject.  But let me say, I believe the “blame” could certainly be placed on the Pied Piper, but I believe more often than not, the Pied Piper is actually created by the church, not the personality of the Youth Pastor.  If the church creates an environment of love and support (namely through prayer), gives the ministry attention (not just financial support) and has a clear objective with accountability in place, the Youth Pastor will have no choice but to be part of that environment and not rebel against it by becoming the Lone Ranger (aka Pied Piper).

Next week I’ll take on the Pied Piper Youth Pastor…


*To church leaders, and/or Youth Pastors looking to create a philosophy of youth ministry, don’t hesitate to contact me at brian(at)youthmark(dot)com.


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